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Criminal barristers close to ‘action for justice’ over legal aid cuts

Criminal barristers will tell the government that reforms to advocates’ legal aid fees should be delayed or withdrawn, as the prospect of taking direct action for the first time since 2015 draws closer.

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said today that a statutory instrument implementing the revised advocates’ graduated fee scheme (AGFS), which bases advocates’ pay on the seriousness and complexity of the work rather than the number of pages in a case, will be approved on 1 April.

According to chair Angela Rafferty, the CBA’s executive committee will make a formal request for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to ‘delay, withdraw, amend or reconsider’ implementation of the statutory instrument. The CBA said it will meet officials tomorrow.

Further, the CBA has also decided to survey senior members directly on whether there should be ‘action for justice’. A survey has been sent to the circuit leaders and all heads of chambers.

’We need to establish what appetite there might be for action. It is clear that the criminal justice system cannot continue with this level of underfunding,’ Rafferty said.

In 2014 and 2015 CBA members, as well as solicitors, voted in favour of ‘no new work and no returns’ in protest to cuts to legal aid.

The House of Lords’ secondary legislation scrutiny committee wrote the MoJ seeking clarification on the AGFS scheme. A government impact assessment claimed the changes would increase legal aid spending by an additional £9m per year but the Bar Council and the CBA say it actually amounts to a £2m cut.

Rafferty said: ‘The new AGFS reform has exposed this impoverishment of the system like no other event in recent legal aid history. There is real concern that the more complex work will not be adequately paid for. Money has been moved around the AGFS system but there is no new money to go in.’

A similar method for remunerating solicitors, the litigators’ graduated fee scheme, was cut in October last year.

A spokesperson for the MoJ said it ‘greatly values the contribution of all criminal defence advocates’.

They added: ‘The changes under AGFS will create a simpler and more modern pay system in legal aid funded cases. They will also ensure that pay better reflects the actual work being done by defence advocates in the Crown Court. We will be engaging with the CBA to discuss the concerns they have raised.’

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