CBA Chairman’s Special Message
CBA Special Chairman’s Message – AGFS
Today, at last, the MOJ has launched its consultation on reforming the obsolete AGFS.
In 2014, the Criminal Bar took action against the government when it proposed yet another round of cuts in advocacy fees. We had had enough. The action staved off the worst of it, and it taught the MOJ that things had to change. The Jeffrey and Leveson reports showed that the market was not working and the public interest was suffering as a result. The MOJ decided that instead of fighting the lawyers, they should design a better system of payment than the obsolete RAGFS, and listen to us while they did it.
The then Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Lavender QC, set up a working group to help the MOJ. The strategic aims were always clear, and were made public: to reward the work that advocates do, and to make the payments fair for all advocates. The scheme had to be ‘cost neutral’, but it was clear that there was scope to redistribute the money more equitably, so that junior advocates in particular would fare better than they have in recent years. The Young Barristers Committee has been actively involved. All those representing the Bar have taken soundings whenever possible from junior colleagues, who have been supportive of the new scheme.
By the linking of fees to the type of case, advocates will see their earnings rise as they progress to more complex and demanding trial work. That should help us recruit and retain talented people who would be otherwise tempted into better-paid work. These were among the key ambitions for the new scheme, as set out in CBA’s Chairman’s Messages, and elsewhere, over the last two years.
The headlines of the new scheme are:
- Guaranteed payment of £300 for every ineffective trial.
- Restoration of separate payments for PTPHs, sentences and mentions.
- Restoration of payment for the second day of every trial.
- Refreshers that reflect the skill and experience of counsel and the work done during a trial.
- Full refreshers after day 40.
- Retention of wasted preparation and special preparation.
- 42 offence categories instead of 16, to capture the seriousness and complexity of cases.
- Adaptability to new offences, changes in working practices and the like.
- A rational structure for the payment of cases that rewards the level of work done, the seriousness and complexity of the case and the skill and experience of the advocate.
- An end to the fights about page counts.
No scheme can be perfect – you will find flaws in this one. There is no new money, and no recognition that rates have declined sharply in real terms over the last twenty years. We still have battles to fight, but the CBA believes that the new scheme is a great improvement on what has gone before, and we should at least give it a cautious welcome as a step in the right direction.
Please read the consultation. Tell us what you think, and reply to it – it’s open until 2 March. The Ministry says it wants to create a better and more sustainable system for junior advocates, to reflect the work that they do. We must hold them to it. They say they will listen carefully to all suggestions made in response to the consultation and if CBA members find ways to improve the scheme, we will do everything we can to incorporate your ideas.