Proposals to slash legal aid fees are based on a ‘highly contentious’ claim that spend is increasing, the head of a London practitioners’ group has said, urging the government to extend a consultation deadline to allow ‘proper consideration’ of a forthcoming publication of official statistics.

The Ministry of Justice’s consultation on reforming the litigators’ graduated fee scheme (LGFS) closes on 24 March. Legal aid statistics for the last three months of 2016 are due to be published six days later.

Greg Powell, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said: ‘It is vital the third-quarter-spend statistics are published and that the consultation period is extended to allow proper consideration, as the basis of the consultation appears false.’

In 2015/16 £341m was paid to litigators under the scheme. The ministry wants to return LGFS expenditure to 2013/14 levels (£292m).

Powell says the ministry’s proposals are based on a claim that LGFS spend rose in 2015/16.

He said: ‘This claim is highly contentious given the transfer of high-cost cases into the scheme. It is also not true that any rise was a trend. The first two quarters of 2016/17 show spend falling back below 2013/14 levels.’

Should the ministry proceed with its proposals, legal aid providers conducting cases with at least 6,000 pages of prosecution evidence would receive around £26m to £36m less for LGFS payments.

A spokesperson for the ministry told the Gazette today that the next round of statistics will be published as planned on 30 March, and that the consultation is still scheduled to close on 24 March.