The Ministry of Justice has announced transitional arrangements after lawyers threatened a boycott over 30% fee cuts.

The Ministry of Justice has announced transitional arrangements for the payment of very high cost criminal cases (VHCCs) in a bid to stave off a threatened boycott by lawyers which could result in serious cases collapsing.

A statutory instrument implementing the 30% fee cuts to VHCC cases will be laid tomorrow, but the ministry has agreed to put in place transitional arrangements under which advocates will be paid at the old rates where rates have been agreed with the Legal Aid Agency or where trials are imminent.

The transitional arrangements will apply to cases set for trial on or before 31 March 2014, or for work agreed with the agency before 2 December.

New work from 2 December will be paid at the new rate.

The move followed a poll by the Criminal Bar Association revealing that 98% of barristers said they would return ongoing VHCC work and not accept new cases when the fee cuts come in to effect. Some of the biggest criminal law firms, including Tuckers and Burton Copeland, have pledged to support the bar by not taking returns or accepting new VHCC cases.

However any hope that the new arrangements might head off a boycott may be in vain. CBA chair Nigel Lithman QC said the move does not change the position of the criminal bar and ‘treats those who do these serious cases with contempt’.

The government is still asking barristers to agree to work for new rates that are ‘wholly unacceptable’, Lithman said. ‘It strengthens our resolve to ensure the wishes of lawyers who will not work for these rates are maintained.’