Consultation 014.09

Legal Aid: Funding Reforms

Ref 014.09

This consultation paper by the Ministry of Justice ( MoJ ) sets out proposals intended to further rebalance legal aid spending, and to target the civil legal aid budget more effectively.

The proposals, the MoJ claims, will help to sustain the legal aid budget over the next spending review period, and is designed to focus criminal legal aid spending effectively, whilst at time protecting the civil fund as far as possible from any rise in criminal spend in the short to medium term.

The funding reforms outlined in the consultation paper include:

  • Rationalising the rate of pay for barristers in Crown Court cases. On average, barristers acting for the prosecution receive 23% less pay than if they were acting for the defence, which could be creating an incentive for barristers to favour defence work over prosecution work.
  • Stabilising the cost of legal aid representation at police stations. Costs have been driven up by an oversubscription of duty schemes in some areas of the country, mostly in areas with too many firms competing for business. In order to contain these costs and discourage inefficiency, we are proposing a reduction in police station fees in the most expensive and oversubscribed areas.
  • Ending the current duplication of fees which remunerates litigators for preparation for committal hearing but which also remunerates the same litigators for consideration of the Committals Bundle in preparation for trial in the Crown Court. The change will see all working on Committals combined into one fixed fee which will be paid out of the Litigator Graduate Fee Scheme.
  • Ending the anomaly by which practitioners in criminal cases receive a fee for file reviews which does not apply in civil cases. This would see an end to payments for criminal file reviews.

In addition, the Legal Services Commission will be asked to consider changes to payments made to experts in both criminal and civil cases. Currently, the legal aid budget pays different amounts for the same work by different experts and across categories of law. The change would see payments standardised to ensure better value for money.

The Legal Services Commission has also been asked to find an additional 5% saving from its administrative budget this year, and 10% next year.

The paper can be accessed on the following MoJ link.

The consultation on the proposed legal aid funding reforms will run from 20 August 2009 to 12 November 2009.

ILEX would welcome the views of members practicing in the legal aid field on any or all of the above proposals.