By: 5 January 2017
Government publishes proposals to reform criminal defence advocates pay

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published a consultation on plans to introduce a simpler and fairer pay system for defence advocates who work on legal aid-funded criminal cases.

The new, modernised Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), will mean fees for barristers and solicitor advocates are no longer based on factors such as the number of pages in a case, which the MoJ says are “outdated”, but instead on the seriousness and complexity of the work.

The amended measures that the Government intends to introduce into the AGFS – which was last amended in 2007 – aim to increase certainty and transparence, ensure fair payment for work done, and to reduce bureaucracy in the system to cut the burden on the taxpayer and advocates.

Included in the consultation are measures to create a simpler, more streamlined calculation of fees, including a new detailed categorisation system based on complexity, and a reduction on reliance on counting paper, with advocates instead focusing on actual in-court advocacy. There are also proposals to move away from ‘bundling’ of fees into a base fee. The MoJ says that this will improve transparency and certainty for all advocates, in particular junior advocates.

Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald QC said: “As we take steps to update and modernise our criminal justice system, it is vital that the way we pay criminal defence advocates fairly reflects this new reality.

“Our current payment system does not focus enough on the skilled work that barristers and solicitor advocates demonstrate every day in the Crown Court. I want to change that to ensure the system is simpler and fairer.”

Andrew Langdon QC, Chairman of the Bar, said that if the new AGFS was implemented, then it would mean the introduction of a fairer way of rewarding advocates for publicly-funded work in the Criminal Justice System.

“The Ministry of Justice’s proposed new scheme is rational, focusing on actual in-court advocacy, rather than counting paper which the current outdated scheme does,” he said.

“The consultation, and proposed new scheme, is a positive example of the Ministry of Justice participating in constructive dialogue with the profession through the Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association, Circuits and Young Bar. We are urging the Bar to respond to this important consultation. It provides a surer foundation for the future,” he added.