The Law Society and practitioner groups have welcomed a potential breakthrough in the dispute between the criminal bar and government over legal aid fees for advocates - calling for a similar announcement to resolve their dispute.
The Criminal Bar Association today announced that it was suspending a 'no returns' protest due to start tomorrow until 12 June after a surprise offer - totalling £15m - was put on the table.
Law Society president Joe Egan said he was pleased the ministry has recognised the need for the criminal justice system to be properly funded. He now hopes a similar deal can be reached in relation to the litigators' graduated fee scheme (LGFS) ahead of a High Court judicial review hearing this summer.
Egan said: 'We hope the MoJ will now withdraw their opposition to the Law Society's judicial review for the LGFS scheme cuts. We look forward to a similar announcement in relation to the work carried out by solicitors, including the withdrawal of the most recent pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) cut.
'This change of policy is no doubt as a result of the public debate about the state of the criminal justice system and recent arguments put forward by both sides of the profession, and not as a direct response to the recent action of the bar.'
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association and Criminal Law Solicitors' Association also welcomed today's development.
Greg Powell, LCCSA president, said: 'The capping of page count in the LGFS scheme has been justified by the urgent need to make "savings". Continuing to resist the judicial review challenge to that cut is now obviously unjustifiable and we would welcome an announcement by the MoJ that it is not only reversing the PPE cut but recognises the need for new investment in the LGFS scheme.'
Bill Waddington, CLSA chair, said: ‘It is imperative that the MoJ enter into negotiations regarding solutions to the current crisis which include the Law Society and solicitor professional associations. In particular, the MoJ must urgently reverse the 8.75% cut made in 2014, and to invest new money into Crown court, magistrates' court and police station fees, and to urgently review the magistrates' court means test thresholds last considered in 2008 and which has denied many in our society access to justice.’