The government is expected to be told 'enough is enough' by solicitors at a roundtable discussion tomorrow on criminal legal aid fees.
The Ministry of Justice said up to £50m was on offer when, on 28 February, it unveiled the first tranche of proposals since commencing a review of fee schemes over a year ago.
A consultation on the proposals closes on 27 March. The ministry has organised roundtables, with the first taking place at the Law Society’s headquarters in London tomorrow at 5.30pm. Roundtables will take place in Birmingham and Leeds on 19 March, and one in Cardiff on 25 March. Roundtables may take place in Manchester on the 24th and Bristol on the 26th but these have yet to be confirmed.
The ministry wants feedback on proposed policies for payment for work on unused material, paper heavy cases, cracked trials and sending cases to the Crown court.
The Law Society has urged members to attend the events. Simon Davis, president, said: 'The stakes are high, and without urgent intervention, the defence profession could fall apart. It is important the government receives feedback from the profession on the accelerated proposals in order to understand how serious the position is for practitioners and clients - and how the current offer falls well short of what is needed. We will be submitting a more detailed response to the consultation in due course'.
The Gazette was told it would not be allowed to attend tomorrow’s event, where solicitors are expected to tell officials that the offer is not enough.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association said: 'They have asked the profession to share our "expert and honest" opinions about the proposals so this is our first chance to turn out en masse and say no.
'No it’s not OK to pay us a sending fee which is not even a third of the old committal fees from 2011. No it’s not OK to pay us an hourly rate for perusal of unused material based on hourly rates from the 1990s. No it’s not OK to pay the bar 100% of a basic trial fee for cracked trials without paying the solicitor the same when simultaneously expecting solicitors to undertake increased "early engagement" with the police and CPS. No this offer will not fix the broken system we work in day to day, or save the system imminently from collapsing entirely. No this is just not good enough.'
The LCCSA said tomorrow's roundtable was 'at suspiciously short notice'. One solicitor told the Gazette that large parts of the country will be excluded from the meetings geographically and those who do travel a long way will have to pay out of their own pockets.