In the Media, Legal Aid

Talks look set to settle dispute over VHCCs

PUBLISHED June 30, 2014

A deal to end the fee stand-off between criminal barristers and the government appeared imminent as the Gazette went to press, after advocates in a halted £4.5m fraud trial returned to court.

Bar leaders have met the Ministry of Justice several times over the past month to seek to resolve an impasse that threatened eight fraud trials, following 30% cuts to fees for very high cost cases (VHCCs).

The deal on the table is understood to offer graduated fees and increased flat fees for VHCCs.

Five defendants in the first trial arising out of the Operation Cotton investigation into a land-banking fraud appeared before His Honour Judge Anthony Leonard at Southwark Crown Court on 20 June - all represented by barristers.

Leonard had thrown out the case, R v Crawley & Others, in May because barristers would not work for the fees on offer.

Three weeks later the Court of Appeal, led by Sir Brian Leveson, overturned the stay, stating that the matter ought to have been adjourned to see if barristers would become available.

In an email to members, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, Nigel Lithman QC, said he hopes an agreement will be announced this week.

A MoJ spokesman told the Gazette that any change in fees will be 'within the overall reduced budget' and in line with the amount the ministry expected to spend on VHCCs.

A Law Society spokesperson said: 'It is our understanding that the fixed- fee arrangements relate to the current pipeline of stalled cases only and that the fees payable are in line with MoJ budget reductions within the reduced financial envelope we have all been forced to work with.

'We continue to have deep misgivings about the changes to criminal legal aid and the longer-term implications for access to justice.'

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