The justice secretary is cracking down on millions of pounds in legal aid fees paid to solicitors that he says should go to the advocates who handle criminal trials.
Chris Grayling has told barristers that he is to take measures so that the advocate who carries out the majority of the work in a case will receive a proportionate fee. Mr. Grayling is also to strengthen the ban on solicitors demanding referral fees from barristers to whom they give cases, as well as preventing solicitors deciding how the legal aid fees on a case should be apportioned.
The justice secretary wrote to Nicholas Lavender, QC, outgoing chairman of the Bar Council, to say that he would take steps to ensure that advocates were fairly paid and that defendants had a fair choice. He added that the government wanted to “make sure that defendants are fully aware of the choices available to them and that only advocates who are sufficiently qualified by their training and experience represent defendants in cases in the crown court.”
A review of advocacy published in May 2014 found that the market for advocacy services could “scarcely be argued to be operating competitively or in such a way as to optimise quality”. Mr. Lavender called for action to “ensure that the best-quality advocates are retained for defendants in criminal cases which are paid for out of public funds through legal aid.”
A spokesman for the Bar Council said that Mr. Lavender had secured “reassurance” from the Lord Chancellor through his response that only those advocates with sufficient training and expertise would be able to represent defendants in the crown court.
Under the present fee arrangements, the advocate on a case is the first one instructed; often a solicitor-advocate. That advocate collects the fee from the Legal Aid Agency for all work done and then splits it between others involved. The Bar has been pressing its concerns over how legal aid fees paid to solicitors are subsequently apportioned and a change to the rules, in line with the Jeffrey review, to ensure that the advocate who handles the main trial receives the bulk of the fee.
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