The government has revealed that it hopes to lay secondary legislation shortly that would see criminal legal aid fees increase by the end of September.
Justice minister James Cartlidge told the Gazette this afternoon that the Ministry of Justice’s 12-week consultation on a £135m reform package received 204 responses.
'We have been working around the clock to consider the responses but, if the remaining analysis follows the feedback we have considered so far, then I can confirm we would lay a statutory instrument in parliament before 21 July, to begin the process of implementing increases to fees to come into effect by the end of September,’ he said.
Practitioners are unhappy about the government's proposals and timetable for reform.
Cartlidge said: ‘My officials and I have regularly been in contact with the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association, and we have consistently explained the legal and practical reasons why our timetable is the quickest possible way to introduce increases to fees.
‘From the outset of my engagement with practitioners, there has been a consensus call for us to "unbundle" the consultation - implementing fee increases as soon as possible, with other reforms following at a later date. Once we have responded to the consultation on the fee increases and the confirmation of those increases is before parliament, it will be followed by a full consultation response on the wider proposals in the autumn.’
The minister’s statement comes two days before a Criminal Bar Association ballot on further action, which could see an escalating number of court walkouts this summer, closes.
Cartlidge said: ‘We have worked hard within government to secure the significant funding for our plans and I am confident that we can make a positive difference to the future of criminal legal aid that will improve the experience of both victims and legal practitioners.’