Detailed guide: Criminal legal aid review

Ministry of Justice - by Jim Larrison via Flickr

Detailed guide: Criminal legal aid review

The review

In December 2018, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) announced a comprehensive review of criminal legal aid fee schemes.

Having listened carefully to concerns raised by the criminal defence professions, and in light of the wider reforms that are already beginning to transform how our criminal justice system operates, we believe it is the right time to think more widely about the future of the criminal legal aid fee schemes.

The review will consider criminal legal aid throughout the life cycle of a criminal case, including:

  • pre-charge advice at the police station, advice and advocacy services in the Magistrates’ Court and Youth Court, and advice and advocacy for prisoners
  • advice and litigation services in the Crown Court through the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS)
  • advocacy services in the Crown Court through the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS)
  • litigation and advocacy services for very high cost Crown Court cases though the Very High Cost Case (VHCC) Scheme

The review will also consider wider changes to the justice, social, economic, business and technological landscape that are impacting on the criminal legal aid system – including, but not limited to, Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) reform, the Attorney General’s review of disclosure, and wider modernisation work being pursued by the Home Office and the police.

What we want to achieve

The review has 2 main outcomes.

(1) To reform the criminal legal aid fee schemes so that they:

  • fairly reflect, and pay for, work done
  • support the sustainability of the market, including recruitment, retention, and career progression within the professions and a diverse workforce
  • support just, efficient, and effective case progression, limit perverse incentives, and ensure value for money for the taxpayer
  • are consistent with and, where appropriate enable, wider reforms
  • are simple and place proportionate administrative burdens on providers, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), and other government departments and agencies
  • ensure cases are dealt with by practitioners with the right skills and experience

(2) To reform the wider criminal legal aid market to ensure that the provider market:

  • responds flexibly to changes in the wider system, pursues working practices and structures that drive efficient and effective case progression, and delivers value for money for the taxpayer
  • operates to ensure that legal aid services are delivered by practitioners with the right skills and experience
  • operates to ensure the right level of legal aid provision and to encourage a diverse workforce

While the review is wide-ranging, we are committed to delivering a final report, including any recommendations, towards the end of the summer 2020. We will also seek to share emerging findings with the professions throughout the course of the review.

Who we’re working with

The review is being overseen by a cross-agency Criminal Legal Aid Review Programme Board. The Board is Chaired by the Director of Access to Justice at MOJ. It comprises members from MOJ, LAA, HMCTS and other government departments and agencies.

This board is being advised by a Defence Practitioner Advisory Panel comprising representatives from across the legal professions. This includes representatives from the:

  • Bar Council
  • Bar Council Young Barristers’ Committee
  • Big Firms’ Group
  • Black Solicitors Network
  • Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
  • Bar Circuit Leaders
  • Criminal Bar Association
  • Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association
  • Law Society
  • Law Society Junior Lawyers Division
  • Legal Aid Practitioners Group
  • London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association
  • Public Defender Service
  • Society of Asian Lawyers
  • Solicitors’ Association of Higher Court Advocates
  • Young Legal Aid Lawyers

These bodies are working collaboratively with us to ensure practitioners’ views are carefully considered as part of the review.

We also intend to engage with wider stakeholders, including relevant experts and user engagement groups. At the request of the Defence Practitioner Advisory Panel, we are publishing a Programme overview (PDF, 789KB, 26 pages) in advance of a series of regional events open to practitioners where MOJ will present the aims of, and approach to, the review and the issues we hope to address and invite feedback.

We hope the programme overview will provide some useful context to enable practitioners to get as much as possible out of the sessions. The first session is at the Old Bailey at 5pm on 8 May 2019 (hosted by the South Eastern Circuit) and the second at the Law Society Criminal Justice Event at 3.30 pm on 16 May 2019. Further events will take place in a number of locations across England and Wales between late May and October and we are working with the Circuit leaders and Law Society to finalise the timetable which we will publish soon.

Proposal between the Crown Prosecution Service, MOJ, Attorney General, Criminal Bar Association and the Bar Council

Legal professionals are essential to making our criminal justice system work and upholding the rule of law, which is why the government has committed to transforming the criminal justice system for now and the future.

As part of this, both the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and MOJ have commissioned comprehensive evidenced-based reviews into their fee schemes. The CPS review is underway and will conclude by the end of September 2019. MOJ’s Criminal Legal Aid Review, which includes all the defence fee schemes, will report in summer 2020.

In recognition of some of the issues that have already been identified through these reviews, the government has today (13 June 2019) announced an accelerated package of measures. In collaboration with the professions, MOJ now aims to complete those areas of accelerated work by the end of November 2019 and will involve the professions in the detailed planning to achieve this. Further work is underway to understand what areas all elements of the profession would like to see brought forward.

A government spokesperson said:

The work of the entire criminal legal profession, whether prosecuting for the Crown or defending those who are innocent until proven guilty, is fundamental to upholding criminal justice, and the rule of law. Today, the government, through engagement with representatives of the legal profession, continues to demonstrate our shared commitment to improving that criminal justice system, which depends on the hard work of criminal barristers, solicitors and other professionals across England and Wales.

We began engaging with all levels of legal professionals several months ago as part of our review into criminal legal aid fees, and have committed to working closely with practitioners as it progresses. The CPS has also worked closely with barristers since launching its comprehensive review of prosecution fees and will continue to do so through the remainder of the review.

It is therefore only sensible to refocus on areas where professionals have expressed pressing concerns. We understand the strength of feeling that remains, however, and are committed to working with the sector to further support and strengthen the profession, making it fit for the modern age and accessible to those who seek to join it.

Further detail can be found on the CPS website.

As our review gathers pace, we want to continue the conversation with you. You can tell us what you think on CriminalLegalAidReview@justice.gov.uk.

 

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