The criminal bar has struck an interim deal with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in its high-profile campaign for higher fees. A planned walkout scheduled for 1 July is now likely to be cancelled. Criminal barristers will be balloted on the proposals after voting overwhelmingly for a ‘whole profession walkout’.
On prosecution fees, the CPS has agreed that all fixed fees will be increased to the level of the Advocates’ Graduated Fees Scheme (AGFS) from September. It also says all refreshers will be paid from the second day of trial, rather than the third day. Full details can be found on the CPS website.
On defence fees, the MoJ has announced that the issues of unused material, fees paid for cracked trials, and uplifts in paper-heavy cases will be considered more quickly than planned. Proposals for change will be provided by the end of November 2019. A fundamental review of the criminal legal aid system, including all the defence fee schemes, will report in summer 2020.
The MoJ also said that work is underway to understand the areas that solicitors would like to prioritise.
Chair of the CBA Chris Henley QC said: ‘We welcome the government’s commitment to deal immediately and comprehensively with historic deficiencies in remuneration levels for prosecution advocacy and fee payment guidance for a wide range of routine situations, and for standard fees generally.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘We began engaging with all levels of legal professionals several months ago as part of our review into criminal legal aid fees. The CPS has also worked closely with barristers since launching its comprehensive review of prosecution fees and will continue to do so through the remainder of the review.
‘It is therefore only sensible to refocus on areas where professionals have expressed pressing concerns. We understand the strength of feeling that remains, however, and are committed to working with the sector to further support and strengthen the profession.’
President of the Law Society of England and Wales Christina Blacklaws said: 'It is encouraging that slowly but surely, the government is recognising the damage done by underfunding the criminal justice system.
'But defence solicitors will understandably be wondering how much more of an existential crisis they have to face before the government addresses the underfunding they are facing.
'Good firms are collapsing. Young lawyers are rejecting this area of law. In parts of the country, the criminal defence solicitor is going extinct, and the possibility of a fair trial is critically endangered. The evidence of the damage being done is overwhelming. The government needs to listen to more than just the loudest voices if it is serious about addressing this impending catastrophe.'