The Legal Services Commission (LSC) has today announced the future shape of the graduated fee scheme for criminal defence litigators undertaking work in the Crown Court, following consultation with criminal defence solicitors and representative groups.
Under the Litigators? Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS), Crown Court litigators* will be paid a graduated fee for a case, which will be determined by factors such as the length and type of case, number of pages of prosecution evidence and number of defendants represented in a case**.
The LSC claim that the change ? to be introduced in January 2008 ? is the latest step in the legal aid reform programme that "will pave the way for the proposed Best Value Tendering process for Crown Court work". They say the scheme "will incentivise solicitors to work efficiently and it will enable providers to deliver the right quality of service to their clients, whilst fairly rewarding complex cases", adding that the process of claiming a bill "will be much simpler and providers will benefit from speedier payments". The LSC also believs that the scheme will "cap inflationary increases and provide savings".
The scheme is claimed to produce savings of ?11m per annum. This is a smaller reduction in overall payments than the ?28m that was originally consulted on.
The move will bring the fee scheme for Crown Court litigators in line with that for Advocates in the Crown Court, who have been paid by a graduated fee scheme since 1997. In future, the LSC intends to consult on proposals for a Single Fee to establish a new payment system for both litigation and advocacy work.
Derek Hill, Director of the Criminal Defence Service, said:
?The reforms will give litigators a chance to benefit directly if they work more efficiently and this means better value for public money, more money to spend on other areas of legal aid and more certainty for criminal defence solicitors.
?The fact that fees are graduated will incentivise lawyers to deliver quality for their clients. The LSC believes that these are important steps to take in order to help service providers make the transition to best value tendering, based on quality, capacity and price.?
* The LGFS scheme applies to approximately 2700 solicitors? firms who work as litigators alongside advocates in Crown Court cases.
**The formula for LGFS payments is based on the nature of the alleged offence, the type of case (for example, if there is a guilty plea or if the case goes to full trial) and the length of trial. There is also a mechanism for dealing with a small number of complex cases that last 25?40 days and which meet criteria in the VHCC scheme. 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.