The proposal is that Litigator Graduated Fees, which represent the largest single category of most firms’ income, will not increase pending a review into the structure of the scheme.
The proposal is being dressed up by the MOJ as “bringing forward” pay increases recommended by Sir Christopher Bellamy.
This is misleading in a number of ways:-
Sir Christopher recommended in November 2021 that a 15% fee increase was needed without delay. October 2022 is a significant delay from November 2021 and in no way bringing anything forward. Sir Christopher recommended that the fee increase for Solicitor should be 15% across the board as the minimum necessary. By excluding LGF fees the increase will be less than 9% which will in any event be wiped out by inflation come October 2022. LGF reform will be complex and are likely to take well over a year to implement. Reform is also being considered of the Police Station scheme and yet the Government concedes that a 15% increase is appropriate without delay for that work.
The CLSA calls upon the MOJ to follow Sir Christopher’s recommendation and pass a funding order increasing all Defence Legal Aid fees, including LGF fees, by 15% without delay.
Structural reform of the Police station and LGF schemes will require careful consideration and consultation but the need for that must not delay the injection of funding that has been recognised as the “bare minimum” necessary.
Sir Christopher recognised before the Justice Select Committee that Criminal Defence firms are in a parlous state and need a 15%, not 9%, increase in fees this year along with an Advisory body that has the power to review rates annually and make recommendations to the MOJ.
The consequence of not following the advice of Sir Christopher will be further reduction in the numbers of Criminal Defence lawyers, tipping over into advice and representation deserts.
The CLSA has been patient and, with reservation, trusted the good sense of the MOJ to implement Sir Christopher’s recommendations. Failure to do so will inevitably leave our members feeling that only direct action works.
The LGF is woefully inadequate for many cases. Solicitors have already started declining to take on burglary cases which are so poorly paid they make a loss on the case. Some are now considering declining to take on new cases of Assault Emergency Worker, Harassment and Stalking, all of which pay very badly under the LGF scheme. There is nothing in the proposals to improve that position.
The immediate increase must be 15% across all cases.