Government cuts to criminal legal aid work is a very important issue.
A statutory instrument recently came into force which changes the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) under which advocates are paid for publicly funded work in the Crown Court. The Criminal Bar Association and Young Legal Aid Lawyers have outlined that the new scheme represents a £2 million cut, with no future-proofing built in. I supported the motion on May 8 2018 to revoke this statutory instrument, but unfortunately it was defeated with the support of government MPs.
Regrettably, barristers have been pushed by the government into the position of having to take co-ordinated industrial action and to refuse more publicly funded work in response to the changes. I understand this action has been escalated following the defeat of the motion.
The government should have taken the opportunity to withdraw these controversial changes to AGFS and gone back to the drawing board to create a scheme that will attract widespread support. Instead of simply dismissing concerns from lawyers about the flawed reforms, the government must rethink these changes and commit to the investment needed to fix our broken justice system.
The Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) was also amended in December 2017 – representing a cut of around £26-36 million in LGFS payments. Data recently published by the Law Society identifies ‘advice deserts’, where the remaining criminal solicitors will retire and no younger solicitors are coming in to take their place. The Law Society has issued proceedings against the Ministry of Justice in relation to LGFS.
I will continue to press the government to listen to concerns and to think again about the proposed reforms to AGFS.