Home » Uncategorized » Alistair Webster QC looks at the realities and speaks in favour of the deal

Alistair Webster QC looks at the realities and speaks in favour of the deal

 

Let’s look at some realities:
1. The abandonment ( for that is what it is ) of the proposals to cut AGFS represents a significant victory.  I have spent many hours lobbying ministers and MPs.  My experience led me not to expect anything other than warm words followed by no action in support of the legal profession.  It is united action which has brought this about.

2. What the CBA said about VHCCs was far from an endorsement.  The fees are simply unsustainable.  When Ian West describes the “41 courageous practitioners,” he is right.  But they were also recognising economic reality.  Any member of the bar who is short-sighted enough to accept work at such rates only undermines his own economic position and that of all other members of the bar.  I have spent the majority of the last eight years doing VHCC cases and I have witnessed the relentless decline in their rates – rates which represented a significant reduction in fees under the EPF system.  ALL WE HAVE, AS PRACTITIONERS, TO DO, IS TO REMAIN FIRM AND REFUSE, AS IS OUR RIGHT, TO ENTER INTO THESE CONTRACTS.  And, I’m afraid, shame to anyone who fails to do so.  My chambers, Lincoln House ( Manchester ) will not enter into any VHCC contracts at the present rates, nor will we accept any cases which have been “declassified” in order to spare the government embarrassment.

3. Support the solicitors.  We will.   It appears that the MoJ has already abandoned the second tranche of cuts.  What is required is for solicitors to do what the bar has done: to refuse to work at the new rates and to institute the equivalent of a no returns policy themselves.  Again, my chambers have made it clear that we will not accept any work which the solicitors have refused.  I cannot see any other action being justified so long as a number of well known criminal solicitors will not take direct action to oppose the cuts.  If they change their tack and support their colleagues, then such an action should quickly bring about results, just as ours has.  But some of the calls to arms which I have seen over the past few days seem, to me, to have ignored the sad reality of the lack of unity amongst solicitors.  We will join them in their battle, but they have to be ready and willing to fight.  At the moment, a proportion of them is ready to fight.  But it’s only a proportion.

4. The VHCC system needs reforming.  But we must make it clear to the MoJ that any new system will not be accepted unless it improves fee levels.

5. We must persuade the government to examine other ways of funding legal aid ( restrained assets; D&O policies, etc ).

Alistair Webster QC

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2 thoughts on “Alistair Webster QC looks at the realities and speaks in favour of the deal

  1. There has been no abandonment of fee cuts. There has just been a call for time to justify them. Once we are weak enough to accept them with no more than a stifled moan they will be introduced.

    It is worth reading the briefing note for litigators on the MoJ site: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps/user_uploads/litigation-note.pdf

    This restates the unenforceable agreement to take the reviews into account but goes onto say: “Providers should plan and bid for duty and own client contracts on the basis of the second 8.75% reduction, as they will be expected to demonstrate that they are capable of delivering at that level. The fee cut will be no greater than this. The number of Duty Provider Work contracts will not change.”

    If, in summer 2015, the current or future Lord Chancellor says that he has considered the reviews and notes that large firms of solicitors are still solvent in the brave new world of efficient courts, then there will be every fiscal reason to introduce a further 8.75% cut.

    The whole point of efficiency drives is that they are repeatedly used to justify cuts not increases. If we are more efficient then it means we can work for less. The greater the efficiency, the less the cost of production. We are the producers. It is basic market economics. The MoJ does not have a special dispensation with the Chancellor to be run on an altruistic basis.

    In the same way, https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-legal-aid-next-steps/user_uploads/advocacy-note.pdf , deferral of cuts to AGFS until the efficiency reviews means that the more efficient we can be the more it can be justified that we should be paid less. That is how it was justified in the consultation – less providers, more work, therefore less fees per case. Do we erase that from our memories now?

    Efficiency reviews are for the purpose of saving the tax payer money. They are not a driving force of fee increases; quite the reverse. This is not Machiavellian thinking. It is simple political reality.

  2. This is the type of positive spin that when placed on the deal makes it superficially attractive. If the facts were as stated above I would vote for the deal, but with the greatest of respect they are not.
    Point 2- The bar agrees the budget cut to VHCC. ANy suggestion that you can vote for this deal and be against the VHCC cut seems to me to be absurd. If in 12 months time a scheme is going to be agreed from this budget then continued opposition to this means that we ask the VHCC practitioners to extend their protest from the current 6 months to 18 months in return for maybe shaving a percentage point of two off the cut from a more efficient scheme. When part of the rational for this deal is saving people from the pain of 3 weeks of no returns it gives a proper context to the sacrifice those people are asked to make. Point 4 is totally contrary to the deal.. WHy would the MOJ enforce only the bits we like?

    The solicitors cuts and AGFS are not abandoned but delayed for further discussion. The last rounds of discussion changed nothing; assuming this round will be different is dangerous.

    All those who urge a Yes vote do so on a selective basis, in the hope that they will change the MOJ course and win the type of victory that this deal is currently hailed as. I have yet to see a rational basis for the belief that the 30% VHCC budget reduction isnt agreed or any explanation of why when the bar rejects that part of the deal, as even those in facour suggest it will, why the MOJ will follow through with the AGFS stay of execution?

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