Unused material is among five areas of work that the government will move faster on to ensure its comprehensive review of criminal legal aid fees finishes on time.
The Ministry of Justice embarked on a review of fee schemes earlier this year. A final report, including recommendations, will not be ready until late 2020. However, yesterday the department published a plan for 'accelerated work' to meet its commitment to provide indicative proposals by the end of November on what practitioners consider to be the most pressing concerns.
Work will be fast-tracked for: unused material, cracked trials in the Crown court, how advocates are paid for paper-heavy cases, pre-charge advice, and payment for sending cases to the Crown court.
The ministry said the review's success 'depends on the timely provision of information and evidence (quantitative and qualitative) from criminal practitioners'. As a result, the department needs 'more intensive cooperation and input' from practitioners, such as gathering data on unused material, by 30 September.
An 'accelerated package of measures' was originally announced by the government last month.
On prosecution fees, the Crown Prosecution Service, which is reviewing its fee schemes, agreed that, for all hearings and trials underway from 1 September, fixed fees would be increased to the level of the advocates' graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which sets payment levels for defence advocates. Continuation fees would be paid from the second day of trial, rather than the third. Continuation fees in long-running trials would not be reduced from day 41. Full fees would be made from the first day of the trial and payments would be made at the trial's conclusion where sentencing is adjourned.
On defence fees, the ministry said it had worked closely with barristers' representative bodies to increase AGFS spend. However, it acknowledged 'the ongoing concerns of the profession and commits to accelerating its consideration of key elements of its criminal legal aid review in recognition of immediate priorities for the bar, the solicitors’ profession and defence practitioners more widely'.
Earlier this week Transform Justice, a pressure group, published a report highlighting ways in which the current fee structure for criminal legal aid had created 'perverse incentives' that may be preventing clients from receiving the best possible defence.