Legal profession wants properly funded legal aid system following AGFS fee reform
Following a wide-reaching consultation on how to base criminal advocates’ pay on the seriousness and complexity of their work, the Ministry of Justice has revealed that it has mostly stuck to its plans to reform the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS). The MoJ delved into more detail by saying earlier this month that the reform AGFC scheme will ensure that the pay for criminal advocates better reflects the ‘actual work being done’; the MoJ also added that advocates are being fairly remunerated for all work in more complicated cases.
The MoJ revealed that following the consultation, and the views from consultees, it has revised some of its original proposal to ensure that the scheme fairly, and accurately rewards the work completed. According to the government, out of the 408 responses to the consultation, 50% were in favour, while 43% were against them.
Under the revised scheme, hearing fees will increase, with these fees increasing from £100 to £125 for a junior barrister. Standard appearance fees will also increase, with junior barristers seeing a rise from £60 to £90, while each standard appearance will also be remunerated separately - including those where standard appearances exceed six in an individual case. The MoJ has revealed that the scheme will apply from the 1 April 2018, and will be reviewed after 18-24 months.
Critics feel the system will suffer because of the proposals
Despite the MoJ’s assurances, many critics feel that the system won’t help pump any more money into a criminal justice system which has suffered from extreme cuts. The Law Society has said that the MoJ is inflicting more misery on the system by depriving one portion to fund another.
The chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Angela Rafferty QC, added that the association has plans to form a coalition with criminal legal aid solicitors to campaign for the restoration of a properly funded criminal legal aid system and halt the continued decline of the overall UK justice system. She continued to say that the revised AGFS scheme doesn’t represent any new investment in the justice system, and that the budget for legal aid work in the UK has been cut by 40% in real terms over 20 years.
The chair of the Bar Council, Andrew Walker QC, also added that the changes to the AGFS don’t represent any increase in the money being committed to the scheme. He continued to say that the bar isn’t surprised by this, but is disappointed.
The president of the Law Society, Joe Egan, said that the MoJ needs to develop a plan and tackle the issue of underfunding across the whole of the defence professions. He finished by saying that increased fees for advocates will be of no use if there are no litigators left to instruct them.
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