You are here

MoJ outlines sweeping cuts in criminal legal aid fees

20 August 2009

The Ministry of Justice has today announced plans for sweeping cuts in the fees paid to solicitors and barristers for criminal legal aid work.

The move follows the decision by ministers to shelve plans for the rapid introduction of best value tendering (see Solicitors Journal 28 July 2009).

The latest proposals include cutting the fees paid to duty solicitors in “expensive and oversubscribed areas”, half of which are in London.

Fees paid to defence barristers, which are currently running at 23 per cent more than for prosecutors, would also be cut.

All work on committals would be combined into a single fixed fee to remove “duplication of fees”, when litigators are paid for preparing for the committal and considering the committal bundle before a Crown Court trial.

Payments for file reviews would be ended and the fees paid to experts in both criminal and civil cases reduced.

“We are determined to ensure that legal aid is prioritised effectively and particularly that we enable more people to resolve their civil legal problems,” legal aid minister Lord Bach said.

“I want to continue, as a priority, to increase access to civil legal aid and I am aiming for an increase to 1.03 million acts of assistance this year.”

He went on: “These proposals will help to sustain the legal aid budget over the next spending review period, ensure that we focus criminal legal aid spending effectively and will protect the civil fund as far as possible from any rise in criminal spend in the short to medium term.

“I want to ensure that we rebalance the legal aid budget as far as possible in favour of civil help for those who need it most.”

Joy Merriam, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said the cuts amounted to “BVT by the back door” as firms which could not cope with reduced fees were forced out of business.

She went on: “They’re saying that because they didn’t get BVT, they are going to punish us in another way.

“This does not tackle waste in the system and the large amount of the budget spent on a small number of cases. It is hitting high street firms on lower paid criminal work, where the budget is under control.”

A consultation on the cuts will run until 12 November 2009.

Categorised in:

Legal Aid Procedures The Bar