Update on payment of Advocates’ Criminal Graduated Fee Claims
3 August 2011
The Bar Council has continued to receive complaints from
barristers regarding delays and other problems since the Legal
Services Commission took over the processing and payment of Crown
Court legal aid fees. On 8 June 2011, the Bar Council posted a news
item on its website detailing the reasons for the delays.Since
then, the Bar Council has made further representations to ensure
that these matters are resolved.
1. The MAAT number issue
The provision of Means Assessment and Appeals Tool (MAAT) numbers
caused some difficulty. There were approximately 1,000 Advocates'
Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) cases where payment was delayed because
the MAAT number had not been amended in the MAAT system to show
that a case had moved from the Magistrates' Court to the Crown
Court. The LSC had to pass details of those cases to HMCTS for it
to amend the MAAT for each case and then inform the LSC that the
case could be paid. A proposed solution to the problem was set out
by the LSC to update its computer system so that it no longer
required verification from HMCTS that a case had been passed from
the Magistrates' Court to the Crown Court. This change was
implemented on 30 June. The LSC is now clearing the backlog of
cases that had built up as a result of this issue. Most claims in
that backlog have now been processed and the LSC says that payment
for all those backlogged cases will be with advocates by Thursday
2. Appointment of two LSC contract managers for
2.1 The LSC has appointed two contract managers to manage its
relationship with the Bar concerning the submission of claims for
payment and related issues. Paul Benjamin and Tracey
Courtenay-Williams will be fulfilling the roles (see annex A and
B). Their first three months will involve a pilot scheme whereby
they will provide an LSC point of contact for the top 60 chambers
(calculated by reference to the volume of receipts of LSC work in
criminal, family and civil law). Mr Benjamin will be responsible
for managing the chambers under annex A and Ms Courtenay-Williams
will be responsible for those in annex B.
2.2 The LSC proposes to produce a monthly e-alert or newsletter to
be sent to all chambers setting out problems raised, solutions and
2.3 There will be monthly meetings between the LSC, the IBC and
representatives of the Bar Council Remuneration Committee to
identify and attempt to resolve problems.
3. Reduced telephone service
The increase in the criminal graduated fee backlog led to a
significant increase in the number of phone calls which were
received by the LSC. Deploying more staff to deal with telephone
calls reduced the time available for LSC staff to process
In order to reduce the backlog, the Executive Team at the LSC has
decided temporarily to reduce the amount of time each day that is
being spent on dealing with telephone calls, and to provide extra
resource to deal with the claims backlog. Access to the telephone
service will be cut from eight to four hours per day.
Criminal practitioners have opted for a timeslot of 09:00-13:001
with civil practitioners opting for a timeslot of 10:00-12:00 and
15:00 - 17:00.
4. Claims sent to courts prior to the transfer but
The Bar Council is aware of a significant number of claims which
were sent to courts prior to the date of transfer, but which were
not date stamped by the court and then returned to chambers after
the transfer as 'out of time'. There are now no facilities in the
courts to process these claims and the LSC claim form and computer
system requires fuller information that is not easy for chambers to
obtain once the papers for the case have been returned to the
solicitors. The Bar Council is working with the LSC to identify the
number of claims that fall into this category and to see whether a
way can be found in those exceptional circumstances for the LSC to
process them without the additional information.
5. Current backlogs and hardship
The Bar Council is aware of the financial hardship that many are
suffering and will discuss with the two new LSC contract managers
how best to help in individual cases.
However, the main need is to reduce the processing times so that
hardship does not occur.
Barristers can check current processing times on the LSC
website.2 The current LSC processing time for claims is seven
weeks. This is within the eight week target that the LSC has set
itself, but too long in the view of the Bar Council.
If your claim was submitted to the LSC more than seven weeks ago
and has not been returned to you for resubmission, you should
contact the LSC.
6. Local Bar Rule
The Bar Council has received a number of complaints from advocates
regarding the non-payment of travel expenses. Apparently, the LSC
has rejected claims on the basis that advocates' chambers were not
considered the 'local Bar', and therefore prior approval should
have been sought from the LSC in accordance with Paragraph 24 of
the Criminal Defence Service Funding Order 2007:
24: Where an advocate is instructed to appear in a court which is
not within 40 kilometres of his office or chambers, the appropriate
officer may allow an amount for travelling and other expenses
incidental to that appearance, provided that the amount must not be
greater than the amount, if any, which would be payable to a trial
advocate from the nearest local Bar or the nearest advocates office
(whichever is the nearer) unless the advocate instructed has
obtained prior approval under CDS Regulations for the incurring of
such expenses or can justify his attendance having regard to all
the relevant circumstances of the case."
Currently, there is no accepted definition of the term 'local
Bar' and accordingly no certainty to advocates as to whether they
will be paid for travel or not. Tony Shaw QC, Chairman of the
Remuneration Committee has written to Carolyn Downs, Chief
Executive of the LSC, seeking to agree a definition of the 'local
Bar' and an indication of the courts/centres that the LSC does not
believe is serviced by a local Bar. The Bar Council will keep
barristers informed of developments.
7. Service of electronic evidence
The Bar Council has been made aware that, recently, the CPS has
been serving most, if not all, prosecution evidence in electronic
Under the Criminal Defence Service Funding Order, where
prosecution evidence is served in electronic form, the defence can
only be paid special preparation rates for viewing the
As a matter of principle there is agreement with the LSC that
neither counsel nor solicitors should be financially disadvantaged
simply because papers which should have been served in hard copy,
have been served electronically.
On 27 July the Ministry of Justice wrote to the Bar Council to
consult on an amendment to the Funding Order which would revise the
definition of 'Pages of Prosecution Evidence' so that it includes
evidence that has existed in paper format but which has been
digitised for service by the prosecution.
This should have the effect that if 'Pages of Prosecution
Evidence' that would normally have been served in paper format, but
are currently scanned in and served on disk, the barrister would
not be financially disadvantaged and the special preparation fee
will be adjusted so that the advocate receives the same fee as if
the evidence had been served on paper.
The LSC is looking to publish guidance in the coming weeks that
will provide further clarity to practitioners as to how they aim to
deal with electronic evidence.