Bar Council Statement on Operation Cotton Trial

2 May 2014

The trial of five defendants charged with fraud was due to start this week at Southwark Crown Court.  No doubt the trial would have gone ahead if the Government had not decided to cut the fees paid to the defence advocates in this and similar cases by 30%. [1]

Instead, and as a result of the Government's decision:

  • The barristers who had been contracted to act for the Defendants were given the choice of accepting a 30% cut in their agreed fees or terminating their contracts.  Faced with this choice, they terminated their contracts, and no other barristers have been willing to enter into contracts at these reduced rates.

  • The Judge found that the Government was guilty of a "failure to provide the necessary resources to permit a fair trial to take place".[2]

  • The Financial Conduct Authority accepted that there could not be a fair trial starting this week.  They asked for the trial to be adjourned to January 2015.

  • Rather than adjourning the trial, the Judge decided to stay the prosecution [his decision has now been appealed].

Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar Council, said:

"This unfortunate outcome was a consequence of the Government's decision to cut the rates payable to advocates in such cases by 30%.  The risks involved in that decision were pointed out to the Government.  For example, the Bar Council stated last year that introducing the 30% cut would mean "that the Government is dangerously abrogating its responsibility to provide effective legal representation for those facing trial."

"It is a shame that the Government did not heed the warnings it received.  It is also a shame that the Government is now trying to put the blame for its own actions onto barristers, when the truth is that no-one can be criticised for deciding not accept a 30% cut."

                                                                      ENDS

 Notes to Editors

1. The fee cut applies to Very High Costs Cases.  These are the longest, most complex and difficult cases in the Crown Court, where the trial is expected to last more than 60 days.

2. Paragraph 84 of the Judgment.

3. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

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.