The Legal Services Commission (LSC) is today launching a further 6-week consultation on proposals to move to a graduated fee scheme for criminal defence litigators undertaking work in the Crown Court.
A draft Impact Assessment for the proposals has also been published, which assesses the impact of the scheme on criminal defence providers.
The proposals for the Litigator Graduated Fee Scheme published in July 2006 are designed to transform the way in which criminal defence services are procured and delivered by litigators in the Crown Court. The LSC's stated aim is to "enable efficient providers to prosper while ensuring quality for clients, and safeguarding the provision of civil and family legal aid services by controlling Crown Court costs".
The revised scheme builds on the original proposals, but has been amended to reflect the feedback provided by practitioners following the initial consultation.
Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission said: ?We are keen to listen to the views of interested parties on the proposed reforms. They are designed to help ensure the sustainable future of high quality legal aid by tackling the large increase in the cost of Crown Court defence work over the last few years.
?Clients will continue to receive high quality legal advice, criminal defence service providers will be able to plan their business with greater confidence and taxpayers will know that public funds are being spent in the most cost effective way. We have also tried to take into account the views expressed by the profession.?
The LSC encourages anyone with views on the proposals for Crown Court Litigators Fees to respond to the consultation, which will end on 7 August 2007.
A response to this consultation, including a full final Impact Assessment, will be published by the LSC on 31 August 2007.
The LSC has also provided two LGFS payment calculators to enable providers to calculate the fees payable under the two options for the proposed scheme.
Option 1 calculator
This allows providers to calculate the fees that would be payable if the LGFS were amended to include additional uplifts for vulnerable clients and non-English speaking clients.
Option 2 calculator
This allows providers to calculate the fees that would be payable if the LGFS were amended to include and increased base fee of 12.5% for all LGFS cases. This includes cracked trials and guilty pleas.
Guidance and queries
The calculators are simple, free of charge and can be accessed through an Excel spreadsheet. Most people will be able to access them.
Full guidance on using the LGFS payment calculators is outlined on the first page of the calculators under ?guidance?
Between 1997/98 and 2004/05 there was an 86% increase in costs, in real terms, for Crown Court defence litigation services. The Constitutional Affairs Select Committee recently highlighted this unsustainable growth in their report on legal aid reform. The new scheme holds prices at 2004/05 levels.
The proposed scheme is similar to the graduated fee scheme for advocates, which was first introduced in 1997, and builds on Lord Carter?s independent review recommendations in Legal Aid ? A market based approach to reform, July 2006. It aims to further improve value for money through a shift from paying for inputs, such as time spent and letters written, to outputs such as completed cases.
Proposals for the scheme were published last year, in Lord Carter?s report, but the LSC decided to delay implementation in order to develop some aspects of it. The LSC worked closely with the Law Society on these proposed changes.
The fee scheme uses a formula based on the elements of a case that best predict the complexity and costs of a case. This formula is used to calculate the fee payable to litigators for Crown Court work.
The new scheme would be supported by a robust IT system enabling the current multiple payment process to be simplified to a single system for all work except a small number of very high cost cases. It would also provide more detailed information on payments, which will enable these to be managed and forecast more accurately by both providers and the LSC.
The formula for payments is based on the nature of the alleged offence, the type of cases (e.g. whether a defendant pleads guilty or a case goes to full trial) and the length of a trial.
Very High Cost Cases are those where the trial is expected to last for 41 days or more. They currently account for about 5% of the overall legal aid budget. There are approximately 100 new cases of this kind each year and these are managed under individual contracts.