The Ministry of Justice has announced that it is fast-tracking legislation to put increased criminal legal aid fees in lawyers’ pockets more quickly – in what will be seen as confirmation that the criminal bar’s strike action is working.
Three days after the criminal bar stepped up its action, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that barristers will receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September. Criminal solicitors will receive a 15% fee increase for their work in police stations and magistrates’ and youth courts. Further multi-million-pound reforms to solicitors’ pay still under consideration.
Justice minister James Cartlidge MP said: ‘Our energetic efforts to tackle the courts backlog are working but the strike action by criminal barristers threatens all that progress, despite the very generous pay offer on the table. The typical criminal barrister will earn an extra £7,000 a year from September, so I urge the Criminal Bar Association to accept this offer to stop victims having to wait longer for justice.’
In a written ministeral statement, Cartlidge also confirmed that the scope of payment for pre-charge engagement work will be extended to cover work done ahead of an agreement, or where an agreement isn’t reached, in line with the Attorney General’s disclosure guidelines. Fixed fees where individuals elect to have their case heard at the Crown court and go on to plead guilty will be abolished.
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘These first-stage changes are welcome, with some rate increases set to be in place as early as September. The next steps will be to ensure our members see the full 15% rate increase recommended by the independent review of criminal legal aid. We also hope to see the Crown court scheme reformed.
‘In order to secure the sustainability of the profession, to help tackle the huge backlog in our courts and to ensure timely justice for victims and defendants, the government needs to ensure all parts of the criminal justice system are properly funded.’
Today’s announcement appears to confirm what Cartlidge told the Gazette earlier this month – that the government hoped to lay secondary legislation by mid-July that would see fees increase by the end of September.