Bar Council reaction to Lord Chancellor's announcement on criminal legal aid increase
Responding to the Lord Chancellor's announcement at today’s Bar Council Annual Conference of more funding for the Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar Council has released the following statement.
The Lord Chancellor’s announcement that there will be further funding for the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), following the recent consultation, is welcome. So too are his comments about the future – about the scope to improve the way in which criminal defence advocates are paid, and his commitment to working together with the professions to make criminal advocacy sustainable.
To hear a Lord Chancellor emphasise the need to make criminal practice sustainable, so that people from all backgrounds can enjoy a decent career doing such important work, signals what we hope will prove to be a critical moment in the Bar’s relationship with the Ministry of Justice, not least because it shows that the Ministry has listened to the concerns expressed strongly and resolutely by the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association about the effects of underfunding on the criminal Bar and access to justice.
We also recognise that other steps have already been taken – particularly the abandonment of flexible operating hours pilots in crime, the piloting of a professional entry (ID card) scheme, and the commitment to working with the Bar in relation to the disclosure of unused material in criminal prosecutions – which show the Ministry’s willingness to take additional concrete measures towards improving working conditions, and giving the Criminal Bar the recognition and respect that it has long deserved.
The bringing forward of the one per cent increase to all fees, to coincide with when the other increases take effect, rather than from April next year, is also an important gesture of goodwill on the part of the Ministry, which recognises that the process has taken longer than originally understood.
We have been able to maintain a constructive dialogue with the Ministry through a very difficult period, and we look forward to building on that in the discussions that lie ahead towards the further review of the AGFS to which the Ministry is committed. Those discussions have already begun. There is much more yet to be done, and our work with the Ministry to find ways to address the outstanding, very real concerns of the Criminal Bar will also start now. So, too, will the work that we urgently need to do with the Ministry and others to press the case of the whole of our justice system where it matters most: with the Treasury.