Following the government's presentation of legislation that will see an additional £23m spent on criminal defence advocacy fees, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that it is embarking on a wider review of criminal legal aid (CLA) payments. In response to the announcement, the Law Society said it was
encouraged to see that the ministry had listened to its call for a wide-scale review of all the fee schemes.
Changes to the advocates' graduated fee scheme (AGFS), along with a 1% increase in all fees across the scheme, come into effect in January, and the MoJ have released a consultation response outlining how the money will be allocated. The Ministry has also said that it will condut a "fundamental review" of CLA schemes, including consideration of the wider concerns raised in its AGFS consultation, and recent reports on criminal legal aid and disclosure by the House of Commons Justice select committee and attorney general.
Writing in the Gazzette, justice minister Lucy Frazer said:
Starting in January, we will work with you, the criminal defence profession, to gather the necessary evidence as part of this robust and wide-ranging review. The contribution of the leadership and wider profession to the AGFS has been invaluable thus far and I look forward to building on this close cooperation.
The amended AGFS is the first step in a much larger process of reform. We want to ensure that criminal defence remains a sustainable and attractive career, and that individuals continue to have access to justice.
The Law Society's head of justice, Richard Miller, said:
It is undoubtedly true that the current schemes do not appropriately meet the needs of the current system. For it to be successful, this exercise must come with a commitment to increase spending on criminal legal aid or else the exercise risks being no more than an expensive re-arrangement of current fees akin to the re-arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
We are pleased the MoJ has acknowledged the concerns we raised in our response to its consultation and has considered the analysis we commissioned from Professor Abigail Adams. The ministry has not only made the changes the Law Society asked for, it has also agreed to bring forward the across-the-board 1% increase in rates