Ministry of Justice
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Legal aid reforms

The Ministry of Justice today set out proposals to rebalance the legal aid budget to ensure that the £2 billion currently spent every year goes as far as possible in favour of civil help for those who need it most.

The proposals will help to sustain the legal aid budget over the next spending review period, ensure that we focus criminal legal aid spending effectively and protect the civil fund as far as possible from any rise in criminal spend in the short to medium term.

The proposals intend to make better use of the criminal legal aid budget, reform and rationalise payment structures and sustain legal aid for the next 60 years have today been outlined in a consultation paper issued to stakeholders across the legal sector.

The funding reforms outlined in the consultation paper include:

  • Rationalising the rate of pay for barristers in Crown Court cases. On average, barristers acting for the prosecution receive 23% less pay than if they were acting for the defence, which could be creating an incentive for barristers to favour defence work over prosecution work.
  • Stabilising the cost of legal aid representation at police stations. Costs have been driven up by an oversubscription of duty schemes in some areas of the country, mostly in areas with too many firms competing for business. In order to contain these costs and discourage inefficiency, we are proposing a reduction in police station fees in the most expensive and oversubscribed areas.
  • Ending the current duplication of fees which remunerates litigators for preparation for committal hearing but which also remunerates the same litigators for consideration of the Committals Bundle in preparation for trial in the Crown Court. The change will see all working on Committals combined into one fixed fee which will be paid out of the Litigator Graduate Fee Scheme.
  • Ending the anomaly by which practitioners in criminal cases receive a fee for file reviews which does not apply in civil cases. This would see an end to payments for criminal file reviews.

In addition, the Legal Services Commission will be asked to consider changes to payments made to experts in both criminal and civil cases. Currently, the legal aid budget pays different amounts for the same work by different experts and across categories of law. The change would see payments standardised to ensure better value for money.

The Legal Services Commission has also been asked to find an additional 5% saving from its administrative budget this year, and 10% next year.

Legal Aid Minister, Willy Bach said:

‘The UK has one of the best funded legal aid systems in the world and it is a vital service for many people, particularly during the current economic downturn. More and more homeowners, employees and those facing financial hardship are vulnerable to civil law problems at this time. We need to do all we can to ensure that legal aid is prioritised effectively so that more people are able to access it to and resolve their legal problems.

‘Legal aid practitioners provide a fantastic service and should be paid accordingly; and that means rebalancing some fee structures so that there is greater fairness across the board. Today’s consultation paper sets out proposals to make better use of the legal aid budget and ensure access for as many people as possible.’

The consultation on the proposed legal aid funding reforms will run from 20 August 2009 to 12 November 2009.

Notes to editors

  1. For media enquiries please contact Ministry of Justice press office on 020 3334 3536.
  2. The proposed legal aid funding reforms are outlined in a formal consultation, Legal aid: funding reforms.

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