The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) has shifted its focus from low prosecution fees onto ‘unacceptable flaws’ in the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS).

In its weekly message, the CBA demanded an end to flat brief fees and for all ‘cracks’ to be raised from 85% of the brief fee to 100%.

CBA chair Chris Henley QC wrote: ‘Brief fees are far too low for far too many trials, not remotely reflecting the demands, and responsibility of the work. Cracked fees which pay 85%, and guilty pleas which pay 50% of those inadequate brief fees are forcing more and more [barristers] out of publicly funded work, or the profession, altogether.’

The overwhelming majority of cases in the Crown court, if legally aided, are remunerated under the AGFS. Reforms to the scheme in April 2018 created bands for payments, with murder and manslaughter attracting the highest fees. 

However, its budget has endured many years of cuts. Henley said: ‘The overall cost of criminal defence advocacy in the Crown court will be about £200m this year. If the 2008 fee rates had kept pace with inflation the budget would now be close to £400m.’

He gave the example of a six- to eight-week trial, with a 7,000 page bundle, which cracked. The barrister received a fee of £555.

The CBA’s message comes amidst growing tension at the criminal bar. Last week, the CBA announced a vote on a whether to stage a one day walkout over their long-running dispute about legal aid and prosecution fees.