Further cuts to crime fees are untenable and highly questionable, warns Law Society
The case for introducing further cuts to criminal legal aid fees has not been made, the Law Society today insisted as it responded to a key Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation.
Proposed changes to the Litigator Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS), which propose cuts to the fees paid to litigators undertaking cases in the crown court, would impact on access to justice, particularly for the vulnerable.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said: "Those dealing with this work have not received any rate increase since 1998 and have already absorbed a cut of 8.75%. The relatively small savings that might be obtained from the proposals do not warrant the potential damage they could cause to the sustainability of a very fragile market, and to access to justice for vulnerable people.
"There is a significant possibility that the cuts could create greater costs for the MoJ than the £30 million they are hoping to save."
Under the plans, published in February, the MoJ will make changes to the LGFS, slashing payments for paper-heavy crown court cases. The reason given for this change is that more pages of evidence are now being served by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), and therefore average costs per case are increasing. This reflects the fact that the cases are more complicated (fraud) and serious (historic sex and grooming cases), requiring additional work, for which solicitors should be paid.
The government concedes the proposed cut to the LGFS is an interim measure.
Robert Bourns added: "We believe that a quick fix money saving solution, which will not address any other issues relating to the way litigators are remunerated, is highly questionable and at best short-sighted."
"The MoJ’s previous research showed a further cut to crime fees would drive firms out of business, leaving vulnerable people without representation and creating additional work for other agencies. We do not believe there has been any change in circumstances that renders such a cut necessary now.
"The government has not yet quantified the savings already being made through a number of ongoing reforms to the criminal justice system. The impact of the first fee cut has not yet been assessed - either on the sustainability of legal aid firms or on the savings it has brought to the government. Further savings are set to be made in the future from a wide ranging courts and tribunals reform programme and other initiatives. The savings from these initiatives must be taken into account before potentially damaging cuts are made to solicitor’s fees.
"The MoJ presents the cut as an attempt to address an increase in costs since 2013-2014. However, solicitors cannot be held responsible for an increase which is largely due to a variation in the case mix in the crown court as a result of a change in police behaviour around charging decisions. It is also a fact that the service of large amounts of electronic evidence has increased significantly in recent years. This has inevitably had an impact on the budget that is beyond the control of solicitors.”
Notes to editors
The MoJ consultation proposes to reduce the cap on ‘pages of prosecution evidence’ (PPE) from 10,000 to 6000, and to reduce the fees paid to court appointed advocates to legal aid rates.
Read the Law Society's response to the MoJ consultation.
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