The government's £15m offer to end the criminal bar's boycott of new legal aid work does not appear to add up, the Law Society has said. The Ministry of Justice is currently consulting on how the additional £15m should be allocated within the advocates' graduated fee scheme. Following an initial assessment of the proposals, the Society says it is not clear whether the proposals amount to a £15m increase.
Chancery Lane points out that the headline expenditure figures include tax. The actual value of the proposed package to the profession is dependent on assumptions about 'case mix', which 'varies considerably' from year to year.
The Society says the ministry's impact assessment shows the proposals amounts to £15m, including VAT, based on the 2016-17 case mix information. When applying the 2017-18 data, the proposals amount to £8.6m.
According to the MoJ's consultation paper, fees in certain cases will be increased by between 10% and 50%. Juniors' basic trial fees will increase in certain categories. QCs, whose rates are double that of junior advocates, will also have their fees increased by the same rate.
The Society says: 'Our initial assessment shows that a disproportionate amount of the additional expenditure will go to QCs, rather than targeting the crisis among junior advocates. We believe that this is the wrong priority to achieve the policy aim of mitigating the current recruitment crisis among both barristers and solicitors.'
The criminal bar narrowly voted in June to accept the government's offer. Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors' Association, said at the time that solicitor-advocates were not eligible to vote and no solicitors' associations were consulted on the terms of the offer.
Following the Society's warning, solicitor Jonathan Black, a former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, tweeted that 'if solicitors were party to the negotiations and ballot, we may not be in this mess'.
3pm update: The consultation was due to close next week. The Ministry of Justice has announced that the deadline has been extended to 12 October. It has also published further datasets and analysis to inform the proposals.