A number of high profile criminal sets have clashed with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) due to its circulation of a list of practitioners who might undertake Very High Cost Cases, which are now subject to reduced rates.
The Legal Aid Agency (LAA), a division of the MoJ, came under fire when prominent barristers and chambers realised that, despite their continued opposition to reduced rates, they had been listed as willing to take on such cases.
The list was sent to solicitors, as an aid for instructing counsel.
Criminal set 9-12 Bell Yard released a statement which read: “We understand that the Legal Aid Agency have sent, to solicitors, a list of counsel who may be prepared to undertake Very High Cost Cases at the new reduced rates.
“These chambers have consistently voiced our opposition to these rates and have made clear that none of its members will accept these cases. The fact that the Legal Aid Agency has chosen to distribute the list with the names of a number of our members included, without any consultation of them, is indicative of their shabby and underhand treatment of barristers.”
Argent Chambers stated: “The Legal Aid Agency could have absolutely no basis for believing that any member of this chambers would be willing to work at the new rates.
“Furthermore, no member of this chambers was contacted by the Legal Aid Agency prior to their inclusion on the circulated list to establish whether they would be willing to work at the new rates.”
An MoJ spokesperson said: “The list is simply a list of barristers who have worked on VHCCs. Nothing more, nothing less.
“If a solicitor has contacted the LAA to say that they can’t find or don’t know many barristers or can’t find one to work at the new rate, the LAA has given them a list of barristers who have worked generally on VHCCs.”
In a further statement the MoJ added: ““Rumours of a ‘secret’ list are completely unfounded. We provided a list of self-employed advocates who have been accredited for VHCC cases when solicitors asked for it.
It is not a list of advocates who will work at the new rate and never has been presented as such. As always, an advocate has discretion to accept or refuse instructions.”
Exchange Chambers director Tom Handley commented: “This list is clearly aimed at creating divisions within the profession by suggesting barristers are prepared to undertake VHCC work at the new lower rates when they are not.
“There are 22 of our barristers on this list – and none of them are prepared to undertake VHCC work at the new lower rates.
“It is deliberlately misleading, cynical and underhand.”