Just before Easter, the Criminal Bar Association recommended that barristers refuse to accept cases under the new AGFS scheme. Having considered the matter carefully over the Easter Break, the Criminal team at KCH Garden Square have decided to join the action.
We take this action with a heavy heart. We are professionals who understand the importance of what we do. However it has become increasingly clear that the MoJ don’t and that governments of all persuasions undervalue the Criminal Justice System and put it at the back of the list of spending priorities.
There is much to admire in the proposed scheme. It removes the iniquities of unpaid hearings including the second day of a trial. It gives a greater reward to those who defend in cases involving allegations of sexual crimes. Those cases are significantly more stressful than most due to the potential consequences for those accused of them and the volume of material involved. We don’t underestimate the amount of work that those members of the bar who helped to design this scheme put in to it.
However, by insisting that the scheme was “cost neutral”, the MoJ has entrenched the up to 40% reduction in fees that we, and those who instruct us, have suffered in the last 10 years. The lack of any provision for indexation means that the door is opened for further cuts by stealth – something we have endured with every fee scheme that has been agreed over the last 20 years. No more.
Our system is collapsing. Trials are delayed for months if not for years. Defendants are brought to court late or not at all. The much-vaunted technology that was supposed to assist frequently doesn’t work. The court buildings themselves are under-maintained and hopelessly understaffed. All of this is symptomatic of a system in ruin due to underinvestment. The funding of the proposed scheme adds to that by undermining the skilled professionals – both barristers and solicitors – who keep the system running on little more than goodwill. This includes considering large volumes of unpaid material out of hours without any prospect of payment.
That is why we are taking action.