Between July and August 2011 the Government carried out an extremely limited consultation on cutting the fees which are paid to Law Firms and Not for Profits for carrying out legal aid work. The consultation ended on 10th August 2011.
YLAL has responded to this consultation voicing our deeply held concern that further cuts to remuneration for legal aid work will undermine the quality of legal help which our clients receive, cause more good legal aid firms to go under and make life more difficult for junior lawyers, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, who are struggling to enter the profession.
The reality is that legal aid firms are already struggling financially under the present system. The last year alone has seen the closure of Refugee and Migrant Justice, the Immigration and Advisory Service and Law for All, three large organizations representing tens of thousands of vulnerable individuals. Further funding cuts will make a bad situation worse.
1. The Ministry of Justice issued a consultation on 13 July 2011 on The Community Legal Service (Funding) (Amendment No.2) Order 2011 and The Criminal Defence Service (Funding) (Amendment) Order 2011. The consultation was sent only to The Law Society and The Bar Council rather than being an open consultation available to the public and other interested bodies through the Ministry of Justice website.
2. The Community Legal Service (Funding) (Amendment no.2) Order 2011
The draft order seeks to reduce all fees payable in civil and family matters by 10%; and limit the level of enhancements that can be paid to solicitors in civil and family cases at 100% for cases heard in the Upper Tribunal High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court and 50% for all other proceedings.
3. The Criminal Defence Service (Funding) (Amendment) Order 2011
The draft order enables changes to be made to remuneration in criminal proceedings in the magistrates’ court and Crown Court. These changes are to:
§ implement an overall fee of £565 for either way cases deemed suitable for summary trial where the defendant elects Crown Court and the case does not proceed to trial , but with the fee split between litigation and advocacy; enhance the lower and higher standard fee in the magistrates’ court; abolish the committal hearing fee;
§ reduce Crown Court fees for cracked cases by 25%, leaving the fees for guilty pleas unaltered. Litigator Graduated Fee Scheme cracked trials are being reduced by 25% and Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) achieve the same reduction through aligning PPE (the number of pages of prosecution evidence) rates in second and final third cracked trials and cutting by 11%;
§ align the fees paid in Category A cases (murder, manslaughter and similar offences) with those paid in Category J cases (cases of rape and other serious sexual offences);
§ remove the distinction between cases of dishonesty based on the value of dishonest act(s) below £100,000 (i.e. pay for all cases in Categories F and G at Category F fee rates);
§ remove the premium paid for magistrates’ courts standard fee cases in London;
§ remove separate ancillary payments (“bolt-on” fees) by amending the definition of standard appearances to include the sentencing hearings; for AGFS claims the sentencing hearing will be counted as one of the five standard appearances included within the Basic Fee; and
§ pay litigators in all cases with an estimated trial length of up to 60 days at the rates in the Litigators’ Graduated Fee scheme, rather than at Very High Cost Case rates.
4. Experts Codified Rates
Both draft Orders also require the LSC to implement maximum fixed and hourly rates for all legally aided expert witness work, with effect from October 2011.