Next month's general election may jeopardise progress on a review of criminal legal aid fees, it has emerged.
The Ministry of Justice, which began a comprehensive review of payments in March, is due to publish its final report and recommendations next summer. 'Indicative proposals' were supposed to be published on five areas where work was accelerated, including unused material, this month.
However, Law Society president Simon Davis this week spoke to lord chancellor Robert Buckland, who confirmed that announcements expected this month will not happen.
The Society said: 'In light of our conversation with the Ministry of Justice, we understand that the review has been making good progress. A strong evidence base has been built, but it remains a matter for the next administration to make decisions on future investment. Timing-wise, we understand that it is feasible that interim decisions could be made shortly after the election.'
Any delay is likely to further infuriate criminal defence practitioners, who warned this week that they might have to take direct action if the government fails to fix a pay disparity that will be made worse by revised fees announced for prosecution advocates.
The Society said it will do all it can to ensure criminal justice is an urgent priority for the next government.
For the review, Chancery Lane is providing input into the areas of sustainability, quality, simplicity, rewarding early work, future-proofing, waste reduction and yearly fee reviews.
The Society says fees must reflect a 24-hour service, and allow firms to recruit and retain lawyers. Fees should be enhanced for youth court work. Red tape and administration should be reduced. Payment should be made for considering disclosure of evidence early in a case. Crown court fees should be front-loaded. Fees should better reflect the work required for guilty pleas. Solicitors should be paid for looking at unused material and for out-of-hours work. The cost of avoidable waste in the system, such as bureaucratic errors, should be borne by those causing the waste. Fees should be reviewed annually and increase in line with inflation.