Legal Aid

VHCC panels pressure

PUBLISHED July 21, 2007

Criminal defence law firms are putting barristers? chambers under ?considerable pressure? to join their panels of counsel for very high-cost cases (VHCC), it has emerged.

The scramble to put panels in place ? revealed in a letter from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) to its members ? came as the CBA and Bar Council lashed out at the introduction of what it called ?this deeply flawed, expensive and entirely misconceived scheme?.

Best value tendering for VHCC work will be introduced from October 2007 to cover cases of 40 or more days and, at the discretion of the Legal Services Commission (LSC), in some cases of 25 days or more. Under the scheme, solicitors will submit a joint bid with counsel for work.

CBA chairman Andy Hall QC said the VHCC proposals, which cut fee rates for silks in particular, will lead to a ?profound dumbing down of defence work? and drive experienced practitioners away from legal aid.

Ian Kelcey, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said the whole plan was ill-conceived and the tendering process, which ends on 27 July, had created an administrative nightmare.

David Keegan, LSC director of high-cost case contracting, said QCs would still receive payment of 50-60% more than junior counsel and 14-15% more than leading juniors on the same type of case.

Catherine Baksi