Plans to introduce a simpler and fairer pay system for defence advocates who work on legal aid funded criminal cases have been unveiled by the Ministry ofJustice.
The new, modernised Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), will mean fees for barristers and solicitor advocates are no longer based on outdated factors such as the number of pages in a case, but instead on the seriousness and complexity of the work.
A consultation on a range of proposals developed in consultation with the legal profession has been published today (5 January 2017).
The measures aim to:
◆ increase certainty and transparency for advocates
◆ ensure fair payment for work done
◆ reduce bureaucracy in the system to cut the burden on the taxpayer and advocates.
Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald QC said: As we take steps to update and modernise our criminal justice system, it is vital that the way we pay criminal defence advocates fairly reflects this new reality.
Our current payment system does not focus enough on the skilled work that barristers and solicitor advocates demonstrate every day in the Crown Court. I want to change that to ensure the system is simpler and fairer.
Andrew Langdon QC, Chairman of the Bar, said: These proposals for a new Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme represent a welcome improvement on the current position and go a considerable way towards restoring career progression at the criminal Bar.
If implemented, this new scheme will mean the introduction of a fairer way of rewarding advocates for publicly-funded work in the Criminal Justice System, with payment based on the seriousness and complexity of the work. The Ministry of Justice’s proposed new scheme is rational, focusing on actual in-court advocacy, rather than counting paper which the current outdated scheme does.
The consultation, and proposed new scheme, is a positive example of the Ministry of Justice participating in constructive dialogue with the profession through the Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, Circuits and Young Bar. We are urging the Bar to respond to this important consultation. It provides a surer foundation for the future.
AGFS was last subject to reform in 2007 and is in need of modernisation. Detailed measures out for consultation include:
◆ a simpler, more streamlined calculation of fees, including a new detailed categorisation system based on complexity
◆ reduced reliance on counting paper, instead focusing on actual in-court advocacy
◆ a move away from ‘bundling’ of fees into a base fee, improving transparency and certainty for all advocates, in particular junior advocates
◆ focus on ensuring these reforms are cost-neutral