Plans to reform the system for paying lawyers doing legal aid work, published today by Lord Carter of Coles, have been given a qualified welcome by barristers' leaders.
In his second and final report on legal aid procurement, Lord Carter recommends that the 25% real terms cut in junior barristers pay for 1-10 day cases over the last 10 years be reversed.
But the adjustment will not take place until next April, and Stephen Hockman QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said the delay was ?regrettable?.
Stephen Hockman QC said:
?There is much to welcome in Lord Carter?s proposals but the delay in reversing the decade of cuts in junior barristers' pay is unjustified.
'These proposals prolong yet further the unfairness of barristers working at inappropriate rates, and we have argued strenuously (and will continue to argue) that the date should remain as the last quarter 2006 as trailed in Lord Carter's first report.'
Recommendations of particular importance to the Bar include the following:
- The effects of inflation on the graduated fee scheme will be almost exactly restored through an aggregate increase in the graduate fee schemes of 16%
- There has been redistribution of funds from long cases to the 1-10 day cases, a key goal of the Bar Council
- Cash cuts to the old scheme made on 5th July 2005 have been reversed, through the creation of an entirely new graduated fee scheme
- A revised graduated fee scheme will pay more per case, as a variety of 'bolt-on' payments are now included in the basic fee: however, bolt-ons will still be paid as ?case uplifts? for a variety of circumstances
- Payments will be made to the advocate nominated at the start of the case, who will be responsible for splitting the fee among all those involved, in line with a new Bar Council protocol determining how this should be done
- Solicitors and barristers will have to bid to get on a panel approved to do the highest cost cases (VHCCs)
- A Review Panel will monitor the overall scheme to tackle any problems that emerge
- Across the board bidding for work will not be introduced until after the expected restructuring of solicitors undertaking legal aid is completed, and after 2009, if at all
- There will be no material changes to the rate or to the way barristers are paid for civil legal aid or under the Barristers? Family Graduated Fees Scheme
Geoffrey Vos QC, Vice Chairman, and Head of the Bar Council's Carter Response Team, added:
?Our original proposals to Lord Carter argued for a higher increase in fees, and for bolt-on payments to be made in addition to the case fee in all instances where extra hearings are attended or extra work is done.
?However, we put forward those figures before we knew of the very tight overall cap on legal funding imposed by Government. Within these confines I believe that Carter?s figures deserve serious consideration by the profession.
?We will be watching the implementation of the scheme with a very close eye.'
He went on:
'The Report also contains a great deal of material on diversity. Lord Carter does not accept that a move towards larger firms bidding for police station, Magistrates? Courts and Crown Court work will disadvantage Black, Minority and Ethnic (BME) firms, barristers and their clients.
?We have not yet had an opportunity to consider this aspect in detail, but we will conduct an urgent assessment alongside the Bar?s diversity groups.'
Department for Constitutional Affairs ministers are expected to publish consultation papers in respect of Lord Carter?s recommendations in August 2006 and are expected to allow a 3-month period for consultation.
At the end of that period, we hope that Lord Carter will publish a memorandum report confirming his recommendations.
Nicholas Hilliard, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said:
?We have all worked hard to end the raw deal which hard-working barristers get on legal aid pay.
?During the consultation period, individual barristers must decide whether the proposals are acceptable or not. The Bar?s leaders will be listening very carefully to their views.?
Young Barristers? Committee Chairman Tom Little said:
?Young barristers have been the hardest hit by the decade-long erosion in their pay. The long overdue increases for young barristers whom I represent are to be welcomed. At present they are only, of course, proposals. The Government must implement these proposals, and no less, as soon as possible.
?Poor pay for the junior Bar drives away able practitioners and puts a spanner in the efforts to create a representative legal profession and judiciary".