LCCSA response to today’s interim CLAR proposals
You will be aware that the interim proposals from the Criminal Legal Aid Review (or “accelerated items”) has been published today.
This was supposed to be an urgent injection of much needed additional funds to keep cash-strapped firms going until a full review and/or Royal Commission can take place at a later date.
Representatives from the LCCSA and other Practitioner Groups have made it clear through months of engagement that the profession is in a dire “life and death” situation, and that this would be the MOJ’s chance to not only provide a vital life line until a full review is undertaken, but an opportunity to show “good faith” that a fair and sustainable fee structure would be on the horizon.
With today’s proposals, the Government has chosen not to take this opportunity to show good faith and has yet again demonstrated that access to justice is not a priority.
The offer on the table is not only woefully inadequate, but is frankly insulting to the profession’s ongoing hard work, commitment to publicly funded work and skill level.
The proposed set fee for a sending to the Crown Court does not even equate to a third of the old committal fee from 2011. Committals may have gone, but the work involved for solicitors at first appearances under Better Case Management/speedy summary justice is still very much there.
The proposed hourly rate for perusal of unused material is based on hourly rates from the 1990’s and does not even take into account inflation.
The promised additional payments for the expectation of “early engagement” with the police/CPS as per the Attorney General’s Disclosure Review proposals has been delayed, meaning a significant part of the “accelerated items” package is missing but has not been “topped up” or replaced in another way.
Whilst the proposal to pay 100% of the basic trial fee to Advocates under the AGFS for cracked trials is welcome, there can be no rationale for failing to apply this to the Litigator under the LGFS given the solicitor will have prepared the case for trial and undertaken the lion’s share of the preparation work which likely led to the crack in the first place.
In real terms, the package on offer is merely paying lip service to our urgent cry for help and it is the equivalent of trying to put a sticking plaster over a broken leg.
Meanwhile, the MOJ has been able to find funds from the “magic money tree” to offer the CPS an interim increase of 10% with a promise of annual reviews. What happened to equality of arms? No wonder so many experienced and committed defence solicitors are now moving over to the CPS.
There can be no excuse for not at least matching the increase of our prosecuting colleagues; we are after all two sides of the same coin. And I have not even mentioned the offer already given to the Bar.
We have warned of the impending crisis, we are seeing the collapse of well established firms with our own eyes, we are hearing the cries from the junior end of the profession sinking under the weight of student debt and ever increasing costs of London living having no choice but to abandon publicly funded work. Our representations have sadly fallen on deaf ears.
Judging by the recent achievements of the Bar, it would seem that direct action is the only language the MOJ can hear.
We call for the MOJ to have an urgent re-think about what is on offer before it is too late.
Legal Aid firms are vulnerable and on the continual brink of closure with ever increasing overheads in London and the never ending bureaucratic burden of over-regulation.
Those left are exhausted and over-worked with unacceptable stress levels and the good will of old is rapidly diminishing.
We are struggling to attract new support/administrative staff on such miserly wages, adding to the burden on firm owners and solicitors.
No new trainees are coming through and those left are ever moving towards retirement age with the average age of a Duty Solicitor already being 47.
It’s not good enough.
It’s not sustainable.
This could be an extinction event for good quality defence solicitors and access to justice for the public.
It is patently obvious to all who work daily within the system that the only way to fix this crisis is to put money into it; a start would be to reverse the residual 8.75% cuts immediately whilst a proper and full wider review is undertaken.
We need proper investment, and we need it now.
We strongly encourage all members to respond to the consultation which closes on 27th March 2020.
President of the LCCSA