Legal aid

Solicitors’ leader welcomes new fee for Crown Court cases

News the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is to introduce payment for the time defence solicitors spend scrutinising evidence provided by the prosecution which might either assist the defence or undermine the prosecution case was today welcomed by the Law Society of England and Wales which, along with other groups, has been lobbying for the additional payment.

The fee will be available for Crown Court work, both in cracked trials – where defendants have a last-minute change of heart on their plea – and for full trials.

Law Society president Simon Davis said: “These new fees are a welcome recognition of the extent of work criminal legal aid practitioners do for their clients behind the scenes, and we are grateful to the MoJ for making additional changes to the Crown Court Fee Guidance in response to our recommendations.

“Defence solicitors may spend days or even weeks poring over evidence – known as ‘unused material’ – from the prosecution that can run to thousands of pages and extensive digital material, such as mobile phone records or video footage. This evidence needs to be considered in every single case and may reveal evidence crucial to the defendant’s case.

“Yet, up to now, there was no fee for this vital work.

“As welcome as this additional payment is, it will only fractionally alleviate the desperate situation many firms now find themselves in, after more than 20 years without any cost of living increase; an 8.75% fee cut in 2014, and the COVID-19 pandemic pressures which have severely exacerbated their difficulties.”

Notes to editors

The new fee for ‘unused material’ is introduced today, 17 September 2020.

It follows the MoJ consultation on ‘Accelerated Items’, which also introduces a fee for ‘sending’ cases that will be claimed in the magistrates’ court, to be introduced on 19 October.

The consideration of unused material is currently wrapped up in the ‘base fee’ for litigators in the Crown Court; there is no separate fee. This fee was set in 2007 and was based on average claims for 2005–2006. It is thus extremely out of date, and fails to take into account all of the electronic data that now forms much of the evidence in criminal cases.

View the statutory instrument that brings in the new measures

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