Below is an open letter published by five junior criminal practitioners in relation to the new Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS), which for non-lawyers is the scheme for payment of defence advocates in legally aided criminal cases.
We write in relation to a case which has just collapsed at the Crown Court sitting at Inner London. We write to express our dismay at the remuneration under the new AGFS scheme and the consequences which will now follow.
This was a five handed Conspiracy to Kidnap and Blackmail case and was listed with a four week estimate, due to commence today (19thNovember 2018). All counsel/advocates were instructed at the outset of this case.
The evidence was voluminous to say the least, with near enough 10,000 pages of used and served evidence and all counsel taking approximately 2 weeks out of court on various days to prepare the case for trial. Much of the evidence consisted of telephone transcripts and translated Spanish telephone evidence along with cell site mapping.
Only last week, the Crown disclosed information relating to the complainants character and that he was now refusing to come to court to give evidence. Indeed, he lost contact with the police officers in the case and switched his mobile phone off. This resulted in the crown applying to adduce his evidence under the hearsay provisions.
All defence counsel prepared skeleton arguments outlining their objections to the Crown’s application. These took several hours to research and prepare. There is no (and it should be highlighted, never has been), provision for payment for written work under the graduated fee regulations; a fact which in itself is utterly unacceptable.
But even more disgraceful are the rates of pay for such a serious case with thousands of pages of evidence and the fact that this trial has now ‘cracked’. With no provision for payment of Pages of Prosecution Evidence served (PPE), the brief fee is now only £1,105 (being a category 13.1 offence). Had the trial been contested, the brief fee would not have been much better (amounting to only £1,300). Both of these derisory figures amount to a reduction in advocates fees of approximately 80% as compared to the AGFS scheme which existed pre April 2018. Moreover, the above cracked trial fee is the total payment for all preparation in this case, is of course gross and so chambers rent, clerks fees and tax will need to be paid from this amount. To add insult to injury, the four week gap in our diaries now looms large.
It is, quite frankly, an absolute scandal that these new AGFS fees were ever agreed and that criminal barristers are now being expected to work for such derisory rates. Each and every one of us defending in this case is making it clear to you that we will no longer undertake cases which are PPE heavy.
Enough is enough!
Mustapha Hakme (9 Bedford Row)
Zarif Khan (Drystone Chambers)
Archangelo Power (2 Bedford Row)