It was widely anticipated that there would be an announcement on legal aid reform on Wednesday of this week, but the controversy over Ken Clarke’s sentencing reforms rather overtook events. The plan was for there to be a single Justice Bill covering sentencing reform, legal aid reform and other justice matters and so the prime minister’s apparent veto of the proposal to offer an increased discount for early guilty pleas meant no announcement in any area.
The news lead to real concerns that, if savings were lost from the prison budget, they might have to be made up from elsewhere in the MoJ budget, including further cuts to legal aid. Thankfully, the Gazette has now reported that Ken Clarke has confirmed that there will be no further cuts to legal aid as a result of any changes to sentencing policy. It is now expected that there will be no announcement of the final shape of the government’s plans or how it proposes to implement them before the end of the month.
Elsewhere, the LSC has stuck to its usual pattern of a couple of weeks of silence followed by a cluster of announcements. It has finally moved to address the serious problems affecting criminal advocacy payments, and has also released a new calculator for working out fees due under the criminal AGFS. It has also reminded practitioners that all CDS4s, 5s and 7s must now be sent to the Nottingham office.
It has also reminded family practitioners working under the new fee schemes of the resources available. There is full coverage of the new schemes for both representation and advocacy in the Handbook. Finally, the LSC is seeking feedback on practitioners’ experience of collecting equality and diversity information from clients, both civil and criminal.
Meanwhile, Crimeline has drawn attention to the recent case of R v Brandon, in which the Costs Judge held that no enhancement was available on payments for special preparation under the criminal litigation graduated fee scheme. However, the opposite view was taken in the earlier case of R v Browne, to which the Judge in Brandon was not referred. As Crimeline says, this is a matter crying out for a definitive answer, but until then practitioners will need to draw the LSC’s attention to Browne when seeking enhancement on special preparation.