How many times can you cut legal aid fees and think that an expert criminal defence service will still be available to defendants?
The Government clearly thinks there is no minimum that they can get away with paying to Solicitors. Congratulations to QCs who have been provided with a 10% rise in their fees. Why Barristers are felt to be a special case is anyone’s guess! My theory is that they are more likely than solicitors to have gone to the same prestigious schools as many government ministers and they understand their ‘pain’.
After years of cuts and the bruising effects of inflation, now accelerating, Liz Truss now feels that further deep cuts in payments to law firms are yet again another good way to balance her budget. Whilst criminal lawyers’ firms desert practice in droves and few young lawyers are being attracted to work in this field of law, the MOJ plough on regardless. We are rapidly reaching a crisis point in the Criminal Justice system.
Broudie Jackson Canter have, up until now, continued to invest in Criminal defence law. We undertake the majority of our own Crown Court advocacy which we saw as a way of ensuring that the work could still be undertaken whilst producing a small profit. We went through a long and expensive tendering process instituted by the Ministry of Justice. We were one of 8 firms to win a tender in Liverpool before it was pulled by Michael Gove after we had increased our staffing levels. This tendering process was the justification for the last round of cuts as legal work would be consolidated in a few firms who could gain economies of scale. Instead we were left undertaking a damaging redundancy process.
Now fees in the Crown Court face a drastic cut which will make it very difficult for us to be able to undertake this work at all unless we decide to do it as a loss. Cuts are exacerbated by falling levels of arrests by the Police, themselves facing cuts in their workforce. At a time of falling fees, falling volumes of work make it impossible for this professional activity to be undertaken at all with a profit. This is a perfect storm for the criminal justice system. Small wonder that it is suggested that even sexual offenders may no longer be taken through the justice system. Neither the Police nor criminal defence lawyers have the resources to meet the needs of society in crucial areas.
Whilst Theresa May has announced her personal support of victims of domestic violence, the Lord Chancellor is cutting fees paid to defence lawyers in this area of work by 75%. Yes, you did read that correctly and there is no typo. These drastic cuts are in cases where alleged perpetrators of Domestic Violence are not permitted directly to cross examine their victims. Lawyers of the right calibre will no longer be able to afford to do that work. Where this leaves victims is anyone’s guess.
There are many proper ways for the MOJ to make savings including cases heard through video conferencing and the closure of some courts, but the demeaning treatment of lawyers has to stop before it is too late. We have been committed to this important area of law but there is a limit. If Liz Truss succeeds in her damaging proposals, then there will be a point when we say we can no longer continue to do this work. We cannot carry on providing an expert service when the Government will not pay a sustainable rate to undertake a very important role in a justice system which used to be the envy of the world.