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Lawyers warn legal aid cuts risk unjust FCA court cases

Lawyers have raised concerns that cuts to legal aid will result in delays and miscarriages of justice in FCA court cases.

The Government is set to introduce a 30 per cent cut to fees paid to solicitors and barristers for ’very high costs cases’ as part of plans to cut £220m from the £2bn annual legal aid budget. FCA trials tend to be classed as VHCCs, meaning trials are expected to last over 60 days.

This week barristers and solicitors staged an unprecedented mass walk out in protest over the plans, which will affect any case heard from the end of April. 

Last week the Law Society Gazette reported that no barristers could be found to represent defendants in an upcoming £4.5m FCA fraud trial because of the cut to VHCC fees.  The Legal Aid Agency has now split the trial into two so that it is no longer classed as a VHCC.

Reynolds Porter Chamberlain partner Richard Burger says the planned legal aid cuts could have knock-on effects on FCA cases.

He says: “Defendants in complex fraud cases may struggle to find good quality lawyers, or be forced to represent themselves.

“Unfortunately this means FCA cases are likely to take longer, which could lead to additional costs for the regulator.”

4 Pump Court barrister Peter Hamilton says: “This will certainly lead to miscarriages of justice. There will be convictions where there would not have been had defendants been properly represented.”

Highclere Financial Services partner Alan Lakey says: “This is a concern. By cutting back on legal aid and trying to reduce the cost to the state, the Government is transferring cost to the industry.” 

The FCA declined to comment.

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Comments

There are 4 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Another argument could be that there are simply too many barristers chasing LA work and that some cases would be better argued by solicitor advocates with higher “rights of audience”. At least law firms are more likely have the money to invest in training young solicitors, something that I can’t see many barristers’ chambers having the resources to do.

  2. My own view is that solicitors and barristers are only trying to protect their incomes – nothing else. They could not care less about miss-carriages of justice. It is like everything else in life there are those who can afford things and there are those who cant. If you cant afford to be representated in court then that is too bad. These complex cases they refer to are usually “big money” cases so those involved are well able to afford it, they just dont want to have to pay for it and the legal eagles dont care as they currently know that the can get paid by the client or LA. Im glad to see this bill being slashed and it should be slashed even more. There will be too many of them for the work involved so some will have to move to a differnt carreer or take a reduced income. Welcome to the real world chaps and chapess’s.

  3. PS I have no problem with them wanting to maintain their income streams – we all want to do that, but be up front and say this is going to hurt their pockets and not hide behind this smoked filled coffe house cr*p of “Oh we are so concerned about our clients…” Say that you are worried about the sustainability of of your jobs and income

  4. Marty ..the real issues are these..
    1. most defendants in the very serious FCA and SFO prosecutions have all their assets restrained, only in the rarest and most limited of circumstances will the FSA allow limited variation of that restraint order to meet fees for legal representation, there is no facility for any other prosecuting body this country to allow legal fees to be met from a defendants assets or income.
    2.It costs £10, 000 per day to run one single court in the Crown Court , unrepresented defendants mean that hearings /trials will take much longer and therefore cost the tax payer much more.
    3. Increasingly defence work in these type of trials is document based and subject to stringent legal conditions and standards .something which a lay client would find difficult to produce.
    4. More often than not, the Prosecutions case is based on expert evidence eg forensic accountants , who would have to be cross-examined and defence experts would have to be instructed to deal with the Crowns case, we are subject to time limits on examination and cross examination of witnesses ..again something that most lay clients would struggle with.
    This is why we defence lawyers are so concerned.

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