Chambers have hit back at a ‘misleading, cynical and underhand’ list of barristers’ names sent by the Legal Aid Agency to solicitors looking for counsel to undertake very high cost cases (VHCC).
A list of 330 barristers and higher court advocates has been provided to law firms who contacted the agency after being unable to find counsel to take on VHCC work at the 30% reduced fee rates coming into force for new cases this week.
The LAA told the Gazette rumours of a ‘secret’ list are unfounded, explaining that the information given to firms is merely a list of advocates accredited to do VHCCs and does not indicate that those on it will work at the lower rates.
However chambers and individual barristers named on the list, but who have indicated they will refuse to work for the new rates, have voiced indignation on Twitter and on their websites.
Tom Handley, director of Exchange Chambers, which has 22 barristers named on the list, posted a statement on the set’s website saying: ‘This list is clearly aimed at creating divisions within the profession by suggesting barristers are prepared to undertake VHCC work at the new lower rates when they are not.’
He said none of the barristers named is prepared to undertake VHCC work and called the list ‘deliberately misleading, cynical and underhand’.
Meanwhile, 9-12 Bell Yard, which has seven of its members named, posted a statement on its website saying the set had ‘consistently voiced’ opposition to the rates and made it clear that none of its members would accept cases.
It said: ‘The fact that the LAA has chosen to distribute the list with the names of a number of our members included, without any consultation of them, is indicative of their shabby and underhand treatment of barristers.’
It adds: ‘For the avoidance of any doubt, if you are a solicitor looking for a member of the bar to undertake these cases, save yourself the price of a telephone call as none of our members will accept this work.’
Argent Chambers, Doughty Street, 25 Bedford Row and 5KBW were among those sets tweeting that none of their barristers would undertake VHCCs.
The circulation of the list comes at a sensitive time as the majority of barristers have indicated they will not work at the new rates and will not attend court on the morning of 6 January in protest.
Criminal Bar Association chairman Nigel Lithman QC said the inference that those named on the list are prepared to conduct VHCCs at the lower rates has ‘outraged’ many who feel ‘let down and insulted’ by the LAA.
He indicated that some barristers had informed him they are considering their position legally in respect of any defamatory inference by the inclusion of their name on the list.
An LAA spokeswoman said: ‘Rumours of a “secret” list are completely unfounded.’
She said the LAA provided a list of self-employed advocates who have been accredited for VHCCs when solicitors asked for it. ‘It is not a list of advocates who will work at the new rate and never has been presented as such,’ she stressed, adding that advocates always have a discretion to accept or refuse instructions.
She said the list of accredited advocates has been in the public domain, but that the LAA would put a message clarifying the position on its website. She also explained that solicitors can instruct advocates not on the list and the LAA will then accredit them.