So there is a rapprochement in the battle over Very High Cost Cases reported here by Catherine Baksi at the Law Society Gazette. You can click on the link. Not that you’ll be much the wiser (and that’s not to criticise Catherine – far from it). The outline of the deal appears to be:
- the government will not seek to expand the Public Defender Service (PDS) now ‘normal working relationships have been restored’ (i.e. any more industrial action and you know what happens);
- revised, apparently individually negotiated fixed fees, to be determined on a case-by-case basis will be paid to advocates undertaking the current batch of VHCCs;
- those fee deals have not been revealed but, “the ministry was keen to stress that the overall payments will not exceed the amount originally budgeted for following the 30% cuts introduced in December”;
- the Bar Council, Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and circuit leaders to work with the MoJ to design an alternative to the VHCC payment scheme (civil servants drawing lots not to get the job of shepherding that negotiation); and,
- an agreement around interim payments has been made, so that barristers do not have to wait months or years for payment.
One might speculate that the agreed VHCC fees on existing cases are not very different from the original fee, but that interim payments have been offered to sweeten the pill. Or it might be that there is a more substantial increase on offer (but then how is the budget figure reached? Perhaps there are fewer cases or defendants in the budget now?). Who knows? I don’t.
Anyways, post Jeffrey and Sir Brian Leveson’s decision in the Operation Cotton case there was a desperate need for both the CBA and the Lord Chancellor to find some agreement which saved face – for both sides – and allowed more normal levels of hostility to resume. Whether this is good or bad, who can say? The deal – or something like it – was probably necessary as a matter of practical politics. But we now have a situation where there appears to be a secret plan to save legal aid/cut the legal aid budget.*
I cannot sensibly comment on the claims of victory now being made, so let me comment insensibly. I am reminded of this episode of the West Wing. Josh Lyman is tricked into admitting to a playful Press Corps that POTUS has a secret plan to fight inflation, when he does not. Josiah Bartlett (aforementioned President) gives Josh a bit of a talking to where the implications of this are brought to light and ends with this, “Are you telling me that not only did you invent a secret plan to fight inflation, but now you don’t support it?”
* delete depending on whether you are Lord Chancellor or not.