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Disparity warning as solicitors react to prosecution fee increase

Criminal defence practitioners may have to take direct action if the government fails to fix a pay disparity that will be made worse by revised fees announced for prosecution advocates, a practitioner group chief has warned.

On Friday the CPS unveiled a package of revised fees for prosecution advocates which it believes addresses concerns over unused material and trials involving multiple defendants. However, the news received a cool reception from the defence community.

Bill Waddington, chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said he was pleased to see money dripping into the severely underfunded criminal justice system.

‘However, this payment is for prosecution work and does nothing to assist the publicly funded defence system which has been cut to the bone over years with slice after slice being imposed by respective governments. It is now time for politicians to take the crisis in the criminal justice system seriously before it is completely destroyed,’ he said.

He said: ‘This exacerbates a pre-existing problem. For instance CPS costs are recovered according to a notional rate of £69 per hour whereas defenders do so against a benchmark rate of only £45 per hour, less than a CPS paralegal. If a local authority prosecutes the case they can recover as much as £110 per hour.’

Troman, a solicitor and higher courts advocate at London firm Powell Spencer & Partners, said there is ‘ample evidence’ of a recruitment and retention crisis in criminal defence work. ‘Many solicitors train in private defence practices but, once they have gained experience, look to secure a position at the CPS or else leave the profession. This trend will increase.’

LCCSA members ‘are growing impatient with the inertia surrounding the criminal legal aid review and will note that this fee increase only came out following direct action‘, Troman said. ‘If that is the only language the Ministry of Justice understands then the message to this side of the profession is clear’.

The ministry is reviewing criminal legal aid fee schemes. Work has been accelerated on five areas, including unused material – however, the review will not be finished until late 2020.