Response to AGFS Consultation

On 2 March 2017, YLAL responded to the consultation by the Ministry of Justice on Reforming the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), the scheme through which criminal defence advocates are paid for publicly funded work carried out in the Crown Court. Our full response to the consultation is attached to this page below.

The consultation poses a number of technical questions about the proposals for reform of the AGFS. We believe that the majority of these questions will be better answered by other organisations, including representative groups for criminal advocates, and individual practitioners. We have therefore limited our response to questions 22 and 23, on the proposed design of the scheme and its impacts. In our answers to these questions, we provide an overarching response to the consultation paper on behalf of our members.

In summary, YLAL considers that the proposals as drafted are extremely detrimental to junior criminal barristers. In light of the already precarious position of this part of the profession, YLAL believes that this has the potential to be extremely detrimental to both social mobility and the sustainability of the profession.

It is clear that the overall trend of the proposed new fee design is to redistribute expenditure away from junior advocates in favour of more experienced barristers. Paragraph 50 of the impact assessment makes it clear that expenditure on QCs’ fees will increase 10%, whilst expenditure on fees for junior barristers will decrease. Whilst we appreciate that the proposed system has not been designed with the intention of disadvantaging junior barristers, the reality of ‘cost-neutral’ proposals which include large increases to QC fees is that cuts have been made to juniors’ fees. If implemented in its present form, this scheme will result in reduced income for junior barristers.

The Lord Chancellor has spoken of ensuring that the legal system “draws from all available talent in our country” and of “working to break down barriers, to make sure people from all backgrounds can rise through the profession and that merit wins out”. We agree that the legal profession must better reflect the community it serves. However, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that these proposals will increase the barriers to accessing the profession, rather than breaking them down.

The foreword to the consultation by Sir Oliver Heald QC MP states that the proposals are intended to provide an alternative system which “complements the new criminal justice system we are building, ensures fair payment for the work done, and provides more certainty for all advocates, in particular junior advocates, who we must protect.” We support the MoJ’s aim to protect junior advocates; however, it is clear that the proposals in this consultation will in fact be detrimental to the junior advocates the MoJ says it wishes to protect. On this basis, the proposals cannot be justified.

We urge the MoJ to reconsider the impact of its proposals, in particular on junior advocates. Concerns about social mobility in the profession and about the long-term sustainability of the criminal bar should be at the forefront of this government’s mind. YLAL is dismayed that this consultation chooses to ignore these major issues facing the criminal justice system.

You can read our full response to the consultation below.