The Criminal Legal Aid basic fee for dealing with this high value fraud is £103.18
This is no joke. Last week we were asked to accept a transfer of legal aid in a fraud case valued in the region of one million pounds. The client could no longer get on with his solicitor and wanted a change. It was not a hard case as he had already entered a guilty plea. At first we said of course – pleased to help. The transfer was unopposed and so it looked as if we would be able to take instructions and thoroughly prepare for the advocacy on sentence.
A late transfer
It was unusual to have a case transferred so late in the day. As a precaution we checked the fee payable for our services. The fee payable is determined by the the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration ) Regulations. the category of case was Fraud by False Representation (Exceeding £100,000) category K and the fee payable that for a “Transfer after Trial but before sentencing (new solicitor)”. The LAA calculator showed the basic fee to be £103.18. We immediately indicated that we could not accept instructions. It is very unlikely that the defendant will find any solicitor to represent them.
The rates are too low
What has stoked our ire is not only the absurdity of the fee but that the Government have just announced a review of criminal legal aid. Nowhere do they accept the fundamental issue which is that the fees payable to solicitors to represent criminal clients are too low. Too low by a very high factor indeed. Hourly rates are virtually unchanged since 1994 and in some cases, because of the fixed fee system, actually less. By way of example the fee for a guilty plea in a burglary case in the Crown Court is £184.70. That includes representation on at least one hearing in the Magistrates Court and preparation, but not advocacy, for sentencing. Where the defendant is in custody, as has frequently happened, we have to visit them to get instructions. Travel time is not payable.
No hope from the Criminal Legal Aid review
The review under the new Justice Secretary Liz Fraser will no doubt follow the predictable path of seeking to reduce solicitor numbers so that those remaining have more work, tickle the belly of the bar with yet further increases to advocates fees (although they are still very low) and devise some killer strategy to discourage solicitors from representing clients in Crown Court cases as both litigator and advocate.
What will not happen is that the government will accept that they have got it wrong. That their endless chiselling of criminal solicitors fees will lead to firms abandoning all but the best paid legal aid work. Further that their attempt to force through competitive tendering was entirely misconceived and incompetently executed. Finally that modern business cannot run on hourly rates that have been frozen for twenty five years.
So we have made a promise to ourselves and our clients. We will not represent clients in cases where the fees are uneconomic. We will offer instead good value, extremely high quality representation on a private basis.
Criminal defence legal aid work will shortly be, as it is in the USA, the poor relation, a threadbare service. Only those who can afford to pay will be properly represented. Along with that goes wrongful convictions, an ever burgeoning prison population, and a steady erosion in our faith in justice.
If you have criminal case and are having difficulty finding high quality legal representation call us now 0208 986 8336 or use our contact form or email.