Bar Chairman: Unsustainable and unnecessary legal aid cuts confirm our worst fears

27 February 2014

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has responded to today's announcement which confirms further deep cuts to criminal legal aid.

Nicholas Lavender QC,Chairman of the Bar, said:

"We are bitterly disappointed that, despite a sustained campaign emphasising that these proposals are contrary to the public interest, the Government is pressing ahead with significant cuts to legal aid for advocacy in the Crown Court. These cuts are financially unnecessary, will cause significant damage to the justice system and to our international reputation for upholding the Rule of Law and will drive skilled and experienced advocates away from publicly-funded criminal work. 

"Whilst we will be examining the detail of the Government's proposals before responding more fully, it is quite clear that the criminal justice system will be the worse for these changes, which therefore amount to a false economy. On 8 February, barristers from all practice areas and from across the country spoke with one voice to warn the Government of the impact of its planned cuts. Those warnings have not been heeded.

"The Government has today announced a full review of the Advocates' Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which governs the payment of legal aid for Crown Court advocates.  We are disappointed that the Government proposes to implement cuts before conducting this review. This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. What is more, the review is not to take place (if at all) until after the next General Election. A review now would have shown, as we have consistently said, that there is no financial case for another round of cuts, after three years of cuts, cuts and more cuts.

"The Ministry of Justice's own statistics show that cost of the criminal justice system has fallen in recent years at a faster rate than the rest of the Department's expenditure. Moreover, Crown Court advocates have already borne a disproportionate share of the reductions in spending. 

"Even before the current proposals, the fees paid to advocates for Crown Court cases have been savagely cut, and the total cost of the AGFS has fallen by a huge amount in recent years. The fee rates paid to Crown Court advocates have fallen by 21% on average since 2007, which is a 37% fall in real terms after allowing for inflation. The amount spent on the AGFS has fallen from £275m in 2010/11 to £242m in 2012/13 (despite the introduction into the scheme of those high-cost cases where the trial is expected to last between 40 and 60 days), and a further 10% fall is expected as the impacts of earlier cuts make themselves felt.

"Today, our worst fears have been confirmed. Across England and Wales, Criminal barristers, who work hard in the public interest, will be dismayed and demoralised. Regrettably, many skilled and experienced advocates are likely to have to leave criminal practice altogether. The quality of justice will suffer as a result, and the harm done may well be irreparable."

ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. Further  information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525.

2. To read the Government's response to the 'Transforming Legal Aid' consultation, please click  here.

3. To read previous statements and press releases on the 'Transforming Legal Aid' consultation, please click  here.

4. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:

  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services

  • Fair access to justice for all

  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.