As criminal barristers mull an interim deal struck on higher fees between its representative body and the government, a senior judge has taken the unusual step of commenting on the dispute.
A planned walkout scheduled for 1 July is likely to be cancelled after details of a proposal between the Crown Prosecution Service, Ministry of Justice, Attorney General, Criminal Bar Association and Bar Council were announced yesterday.
Delivering the Lord Slynn Memorial Lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, Lord Justice Leveson, president of the Queen's Bench Division, said that 'as a serving judge it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the commercial negotiations with the ministry'. However, he said: 'I'm pleased the discussions are ongoing and hope both sides will find a common way forward as today it appears they might have done.'
Criminal barristers will be balloted on the latest 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. All refreshers will be paid from the second day of trial, rather than the third day.
On defence fees, the MoJ says the issues of unused material, fees paid for cracked trials and uplifts in paper-heavy cases will be considered quicker 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.
After the interim deal was announced, Chris Henley QC, CBA chair, said the association had been negotiating hard with the government for several weeks, including 'many hours negotiating in private'.
Henley said: 'We know your priorities and red lines... We will have more to say shortly. Of course there will be a range of opinions and some will express them strongly and immediately, but let’s stick together. It’s your decision, no one is being forced to do or accept anything, but having lived and breathed this for the last few months we recommend the CBA membership accepts it.'
Lord Justice Leveson, a criminal barrister who practised in Liverpool, will retire as president of the Queen's Bench Division next week. Those attending the lecture, organised by the Solicitors' Association of Higher Courts Advocates, included Sir Geoffrey Vos, chancellor of the High Court, and Sir Terence Etherton, master of the rolls.