Bar Chairman Welcomes "A Viable Pathway for the Criminal Justice System"

27 March 2014

The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has welcomed
today's announcement by the Ministry of Justice of revised plans for criminal
advocacy including deferring implementation of any cuts in the Advocates
Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) for at least a year. The announcement follows
months of mounting concern among the legal profession and beyond about the
effects of the Government's proposed cuts to legal aid for Crown Court advocacy
on access to justice and on the provision of legal representation by suitably
skilled and experienced advocates.

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar, said:

"The Bar has consistently opposed the Government's deeply unpopular plans to cut once again the fees paid for Crown Court advocacy. This has been reflected up and down the country on each of the circuits. It is hardly surprising that, after successive waves of cuts to legal aid, barristers have felt demoralised and devalued when faced with the prospect of having to bear the brunt of the highest cuts anywhere in the public services.

"Yet the efficient administration of justice, particularly in the most complex cases, depends on having advocates of the highest quality. It is in the public interest to ensure that people of ability at different stages in their careers can develop successful practices at the Bar. That is why I believe that today's announcement points to a better future from the one which many have feared, and is to be welcomed. This is a viable pathway not just for the Bar, but more importantly, for the criminal justice system.

 "The Bar Council has always recognised that the Government has had to face tough decisions in making savings in public expenditure. The Ministry of Justice has not been immune from those difficult choices. But legal aid barristers who are working at the front line of public service, often in difficult and demanding circumstances, have too often found themselves at the sharp end of those decisions.

"As we have suggested previously, a deferment in AGFS changes will allow everyone to take stock of the outcome of the independent review of criminal advocacy by Sir Bill Jeffrey. We have always been willing to look at ways of improving criminal proceedings with a view to streamlining procedures and making them more efficient. We have much to contribute to Sir Brian Leveson's review and look forward to working with Sir Brian.
"We welcome the Ministry's decision to commission a study of the economics of practice at the criminal Bar, which will take account of previous funding cuts and their effects on barristers and sets of chambers. The results could provide valuable evidence on which to base future policy decisions affecting the structure of the Bar and avoid recourse to further salami slicing of legal aid to achieve savings.

"We think that there may be better ways of arranging for the payment of fees in the most complex cases than under the current VHCC scheme, so we welcome the Ministry's announcement of the opportunity to re-consider that scheme following a resumption of normal working relationships. Indeed the Bar Council developed an alternative GFS Plus scheme some years ago. 

"In the meantime it is up to each barrister what work they do. The Bar Council recognises that at the revised rates approved by Parliament last autumn some barristers may be unwilling to undertake work on these cases. That is a matter for them. We will respect their right to make that decision. There is no objection in principle to barristers undertaking VHCCs, if that is what they choose to do." 

Nicholas Lavender QC added:
"The Government has today demonstrated that it has listened to the Bar's concerns and addressed a number of them. It is also testament to the profession's commitment to speaking with one voice in making sincere and evidence-based arguments, steeped in the public interest.

"On behalf of the Bar Council, I want to see us build on today's announcement by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the criminal Bar has a sustainable future. There are, and will remain, challenging times ahead. We cannot alter that, but we must address them. By doing so I believe that we can maintain a strong and independent Bar which is properly valued for its unique contribution to the administration of justice.

"That is why, in the interests of building sustainable and high quality legal representation, we should take this opportunity to move forwards, by engaging with the reviews which have been announced today, resuming normal working relationships with our partners in the criminal justice system and calling off any further days of action. We can do so in the confidence that our voice has been heard."

                                                                ENDS

Notes to Editors

1. For further information, please contact the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525.

2. To read the Government's announcement, 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.