The scale of cuts to the advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS) have been laid bare by new figures showing that one counsel was offered a brief that would have paid 85% less than under the previous scale of legal aid fees.
According to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) the example of the ‘utterly inadequate’ remuneration were highlighted by two barristers last week.
In April, the AGFS scheme was reformed to base criminal advocates’ pay on the seriousness and complexity of the work rather than the number of pages in a case. The resulting cuts prompted barristers to stop taking on publicly funded work.
Although the government promised to inject a further £15m into the legal aid system to settle the dispute, critics including the Law Society say the sum is actually on flawed calculations.
The example highlighted by the CBA was a trial involving an allegation of a ‘large-scale’ conspiracy to produce and supply fraudulent documents to support bogus visa and passport applications. It involved 4,000 pages of prosecution evidence and a trial estimate of eight weeks.
The defense counsel’s brief fee was £650, with refreshers of £325. Under the previous scheme the brief fee would have been about £4,500, the CBA said. ‘Experienced counsel who was sent the instruction, understandably, with apologies explained that he was unable to accept the case at these fee levels,’ the CBA said.
The Gazette understands that the example has been sent to the Ministry of Justice.
The CBA said: ‘The only tenable solution to the current crisis is substantial investment in AGFS, and an overhaul of the fee structure.’
A heads of chambers meeting is scheduled for 6 November where it is understood the possibility of resuming action will be discussed.