JUSTICE response: Reforming the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme

In March 2017, JUSTICE responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on reform of the funding scheme which pays advocates to defend clients in the Crown Court.

The manner in which defence advocates are remunerated for cases involving mentally vulnerable defendants comes within the work of our Working Party on Mental Health and Fair Trial. We therefore thought it important to provide our current concerns and suggestions in response to this consultation.

Fair pay for work done, and more certainty for advocates is fundamental to ensure both the quality of defence advocacy and the survival of the bar, especially the junior bar. Since it is the junior bar in particular that seems to bear the brunt of cases involving mentally vulnerable defendants, there are particular and obvious consequences for the quality of future representation of vulnerable defendants if remuneration is not sufficient to enable representatives to sustain a career. Further, a lack of financial motivation for identifying and dealing with a vulnerable defendant can lead to inappropriate remands, inappropriate sentences and ultimately to a vulnerable defendant back out on the street without any proper intervention or support.

The revision of the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) should provide an opportunity to ensure that cases involving vulnerable defendants are properly remunerated. Unfortunately, we note that the consultation does not acknowledge the particular difficulties associated with such cases, and the proposed revised scheme actually exacerbates existing barriers to proper remuneration for cases involving vulnerable defendants. JUSTICE therefore invites the Ministry of Justice to reconsider the revised scheme in light of the impact on vulnerable defendants and those who represent them.

JUSTICE’s full submission can be found here.