A Tale of Two Cases

Today (27th February 2014) the government published their latest response to the consultation.

This is a very quick post just dealing with the problems with AGFS Scheme 2 and why barristers (in chambers) shouldn’t be too happy with the outcome.

One week last year I prosecuted two cases. On the Monday it was a benefit fraud – a two day trial. The value was just over £20,000. To be ready for trial involved, say, 20 hours work doing interview edits, admissions and schedules. The defendant was convicted and the sentence was adjourned.

On Tuesday evening I got my case for the next day. It was a shoplifting (£12.09 of cat food from memory). There were two witnesses whose evidence took up three pages. The defendant hadn’t been interviewed and so the only exhibit was one page – the till receipt.

At court, the security guard didn’t turn up. The application for an adjournment was laughed at. I offered no evidence and was on my way by 11.15am.

For both cases I got the same amount of money – £480.00. The fact that one involved hours of out of court work and the two days in court and the other involved next to no preparation and half an hour court is irrelevant.

Now the defence are going onto this rate. If you’re a barrister in chambers which of those cases are you more likely to get from a solicitors firm and which will be kept Inhouse? You can see in advance which one is more likely to run and you know, roughly, the amour of work will be required in both.

Also, note that given solicitors are getting a 17.5% cut when they’re already operating at the margin. The only way to make up the shortfall is to tap into the advocacy fee as well.

A firm has three options for advocacy cover in the Crown Court :

1. Keep it in-house
2. Brief it to a barrister in chambers
3. Brief it to a freelance solicitor-advocate

The difference between (2) and (3) is that the firm can keep 10, 20, 30% and in some cases more, of the advocacy fee if it goes to a freelance solicitor. It surprises me that as much work goes to the bar as does currently. This problem will be more acute when there is a wider difference between what work you do and what you get paid.

Sorry this is about rushed – bashed out at court as a result of a twitter exchange. But. If you’re a barrister, when the government says that this is a 6% fee cut, don’t believe it. Look carefully at the small print and the bigger picture.

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9 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cases

  1. Dan, these cuts are of course awful for everyone. But, as a Partner in a firm minus 17.5% means minus 17.5% of my income. That is significantly worse than minus 6%. After Carter Solicitors “followed the money” into advocacy. The most disastrous bit of these proposals for the independent bar is the horrendous cut to Litigation fees. For reasons you set out above Solicitors will have to be far more ruthless in increasing their take from advocacy. The Independent bar is a tremendous resource for Solicitors and is made up of, on the whole, talented and committed specialist advocates. They may be a luxury Solicitors can no longer afford.

    Andrew

  2. Andrew’s remarks are spot on, however perhaps they do not represent the full horror of what the independent bar can expect. In my area 8 firms out of 46 wil retain a duty contract. Some of the rest will merge others will close.

    Those that we successful in bidding for a duty contract will have little choice other than to keep all available work in house to maximise their earning potential and cover their larger overheads. Even if the contract is profitable to start with inflation should make sure it doesn’t stay that way.

    Smaller micro firms surviving on own client work will also need to wring as much as possible from every case if they are to draw a wage. It is therefore unlikely any legal aid defence work will find its way to the Bar and what has been delivered by Grayling with the assistance of his Law Society mates is in reality a perfect storm

  3. Andrew & James – completely agree. This was written as a very quick thing after hearing a few barristers saying that the bar had got off lightly.

    The leadership of the bar during the Carter negotiation should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. They were warned by many in the ‘rank and file’ (including myself) that it would be the end of the bar because of the rise of the in-house advocate (as well as being incredibly destructive to solicitors firms). They ignored that because they thought that they knew better. Maybe they did – they’re mainly on the bench now with a good salary and pension.

    The independent bar was on its way out anyway, these cuts will just hasten it.

  4. Great summary of what undoubtedly will follow. Do not however believe that this is a 6% cut for the bar. Refreshers down by between 10 and 20%. Perhaps on a small case it is 6% loss because uplift in brief by way of assumed pages but the big ones that usused to make it all worthwhile are decimated. Try working out 40 day class a conspiracy with 10k pages. 40% down as junior alone!

  5. The case I have just done this week will suffer a 23.57% reduction under the new fee structure. Four day benefit fraud trial representing a 59 year old man of previous good character. With a PCMH and a trial readiness hearing the fee will work out at just over £200 per attendance at court.

  6. Pingback: Deal or no deal? | Dan Bunting - A Life in the Bus Lane

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