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A practitioner group representing London criminal defence solicitors has revised its legal aid demands after seeing growing appetite for further action over low fees. After dozens of solicitors signalled at the start of the week their unhappiness over the Ministry of Justice’s proposed £135m package of reform, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association has revised its demand for a 15% uplift in fees to 25%.
The criminal bar, which is in its third week of ‘no returns’ action, has demanded a 25% uplift in fees from the outset. One solicitor who attended Monday’s ‘legal aid consultation survival’ training session pointed out that solicitors should demand higher than 15% given they had already suffered a 8.75% fee cut and inflation was now kicking in. Jo Sidhu QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, also told the 100 or so solicitors who attended Monday’s training session that if representative bodies went into government negotiations demanding different sums of cash, one side would be undercut.
Daniel Bonich, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association told the Gazette that the CLSA’s position remains that the Ministry of Justice should proceed with what Sir Christopher Bellamy recommended following his government-commissioned review – an immediate 15% increase followed by further investment that may be needed when the fee schemes are redesigned. Bonich added: ‘A 25% increase across the board remains insufficient on some fees which remain to all intents and purposes unremunerative. We support 25% on AGFS, we just don’t think 25% is enough on solicitor’s fees and adopt Sir Christopher’s approach of a true 15% now to stabilise the market whilst the work is done on the fee schemes.’
Earlier this week Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce told the House of Commons justice select committee that the government’s overall package for solicitors amounts to a 9% uplift and suggested the ministry repurpose cash earmarked for experts, training grants and the Public Defender Service to meet the bare minimum that Bellamy recommended. A Society spokesperson told the Gazette today: ‘The 15% fee increase for criminal defence solicitors – based on the evidence of Sir Christopher Bellamy’s report – is the starting point. As Sir Christopher made clear this is the bare minimum necessary to meet the costs of providing this service and keep the profession afloat after 25 years without a meaningful pay rise. More may well be needed in future.’
Also appearing before the justice committee this week, justice minister James Cartlidge MP insisted the government is delivering the £135m recommended by Bellamy and said it would increase by 15% most of the fees.