Barristers need to be paid in advance to combat cashflow problems caused by coronavirus, the Criminal Bar Association has said.
Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the CBA, urged the Crown Prosecution Service and the Legal Aid Agency to take the ‘unprecedented step’ of allowing counsel to bill for work done, as opposed to billing at the end of a trial. This would be a ‘lifeline for so many practitioners’ during a ‘really worrying time’, she claimed.
In her weekly message to members, Goodwin wrote: ‘Because we do not know what the future holds, we are going to invite both the CPS and the LAA to take what would not only be an unprecedented step but would be a welcome gesture by allowing counsel to bill for work done. This is a crisis and in simple terms cashflow is vital. We will be asking LAA for a number of measures including being creative as to how they can help us through this really worrying time.
‘We recognise that advances in payment is both a complex and frankly time consuming ask but it will be a lifeline for so many practitioners. We must be able to submit bills where hearings have been conducted. We cannot sit and wait for a trial to be concluded in the way that we do presently and given that the predictions are that this is going to go on for sometime, the backlog will no doubt become acute and so we will need timely payments.’
Goodwin predicted an expansion of the use of audio and video hearings while barristers work at home. She also said that trials which have to be vacated and require a new fixed date do not require attendance at court. ‘We are going to invite a positive initiative, where these hearings are conducted by phone. Judges, barristers, clerks and listing can, because of technology make this work. In circumstances where health comes first, the administration of the courts can be flexible,’ she said.
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.
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