The Public Defender Service (PDS) has recruited three more silks, as hints suggest the Ministry of Justice has agreed a deal with the bar to resolve the impasse over fees for very high cost cases (VHCCs). 

Former leader of the South-East circuit and member of London’s Furnival Chambers Stephen Leslie QC and Andrew Lamb QC, from Edinburgh-based Blacks Chambers, have joined this week. John Burton, of London’s 3 Temple Gardens, will join in August.

They take the total number of silks employed by the service, which was set up in 2001 and is part of the Legal Aid Agency, to seven. The PDS also employs 18 junior advocates.

The MoJ has sought to bolster the ranks of the PDS to solve the problem of unrepresented defendants threatening to jeopardise major fraud trials following the bar’s refusal to take cases after 30% fee cuts were introduced in December.

Ruling in the Court of Appeal last month on a trial at Southwark Crown Court dismissed because of lack of representation, Sir Brian Leveson said it was a matter of ‘fundamental importance’ that the bar and the ministry try to resolve matters.

‘Emergency measures’ to place advertisements and hire head-hunters, disclosed in the government’s skeleton argument submitted during the appeal hearing, have yet to materialise.

However hints from sources close to the ministry suggest that revisions to the way VHCCs are paid may be in the offing. The move is also suggested in the two most recent updates given to members by the chair of the Criminal Bar Association Nigel Lithman QC.

Lithman said a ‘large group’ of counsel involved in VHCCs have been gathered by the chairman of the Bar Council to ‘road-test any proposals’.

In his previous update Lithman said he believed ‘real progress’ will result from the discussions between the bar and lord chancellor Chris Grayling following an invitation from bar leaders to resume talks.