Crime fee cuts to be suspended

Just before 5pm on Friday afternoon, the LCCSA and CLSA released a statement setting out the terms of an offer from the Lord Chancellor, seemingly made in response to the suspension of the action last month.

This is the statement:

On Wednesday the CLSA, LCCSA and BFG met with the Lord Chancellor at his request. Also present were representatives from both the LAA and MoJ.  An observer from the CBA was present.

The Lord Chancellor said he acknowledged that constructive engagement has taken place over the summer, which is something that he welcomes moving forward.

The Lord Chancellor advanced the following proposal:

“A suspension of the fee cut which would mean that the new fixed and standard fees being introduced on 11 January for police station attendance, magistrates’ court representation and Crown Court representation in cases with fewer than 501 pages of prosecution evidence (PPE) would be increased to reflect only the first 8.75% reduction for the three month period.  Other fees, where the fee scheme structure remains unchanged (eg Crown Court cases with more than 501 PPE, Court of Appeal fees and fees for advice and assistance outside the police station) would revert to the fee levels that applied before the 1 July 2015 changes.  The suspension would apply to all work on cases that begin in the three month window, even if a case concluded after 10 April 2016 (i.e. for the life of the case).”

The Lord Chancellor is of the view that Two Tier will proceed as planned in the absence of any viable alternative.  Any alternative involves some form of consolidation and we are mindful of the individual business structures of our membership which renders reaching a consensus very difficult. This is however something that we are working upon in the hope that we can work towards keeping as many firms as possible in business.

We understand that announcements will be made during the week commencing the 28th September 2015.

The Lord Chancellor indicated that the suspension was a reflection of the negotiations and good will established over the summer, which he would like to see continue as a consequence of his proposal. He emphasised that if the profession choose to return to action in an attempt to derail two tier then it is likely that the offer of a suspension will be withdrawn and any constructive engagement will cease. We have not yet agreed this because it falls far short of a permanent suspension but we are aware that the suspension given in the past to the Bar remained permanently in place.

We do wish to make these points clear:

1. The suspension of the cuts (temporary or permanent) do amount to very modest financial savings for all firms whatever happens to TT. They will be lost if rejected.

2. At no time have we indicated any support for Two Tier.

We are currently reviewing the proposal and seeking clarification before we respond.  We report the situation at this stage to allow for complete transparency and to keep the profession updated. We will provide the profession with further information as and when we receive it and welcome thoughtful responses as soon as possible.  It might assist if we receive feedback via local representatives where possible.

The Guardian described this as an olive branch from the Lord Chancellor, but if it is it is a very small one.  Steven Bird, writing at the Justice Gap, has analysed the figures and says it is “marginally better than nothing at all and falls woefully short of any real compensation for the July cuts”. This is merely a short suspension of the fee cuts for three months. But it isn’t a restoration of the pre-July 2015 rates. Rather, it is an increase in the post-January 2016 rates by 8.75% – it has been cogently argued by many that the January 2016 consolidation of rates in fact represents a further substantial cut. All this offer does is mitigate that further cut for a short period of three months.

It has been made clear that there is no prospect of any movement on the principle of limited numbers of duty contracts, and that any further action will result in even this limited concession being withdrawn.  But it is also clear that, four months on from his appointment, the new Lord Chancellor is no less wedded to cuts and restructuring than was his predecessor.

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