“Where is the evidence?”
Lincoln House Chambers have already published its response to the Ministry of Justice’s AGFS Consultation. We do not oppose many of the broad principles behind the reforms. However, we are deeply concerned that the suggested figures will result in unintended and damaging cuts in overall fee payments for defence legal aid work.
We have performed our own study on a random sample of 129 real cases. There were no broad-brush assumptions. There was no cherry-picking of cases. We looked at the details of each case to calculate the fee which would be paid under the new scheme. The calculation based on our sample was a fee cut of almost exactly 20%.
Other sets of chambers have now performed similar exercises, including some which involve even larger samples. Every study which we have seen has shown a cut, with figures ranging from 6% to 24%. We are not aware of any set of chambers which has looked at real case data and found an overall increase.
The Bar Council have assured us that the new scheme should result in no overall change to fee levels. They have had the benefit of the expert assistance of Professor Martin Chalkley, who has had access to historic fee data held by the LAA. He is able to analyse the supposed effect of the fee changes by processing it through an algorithmic ‘model’ produced by the MoJ.
Professor Chalkley has looked at our own data, applying the MoJ model. He calculates that for Lincoln House Chambers the reforms would result in a cut of 3.8%: a cut, but not as bad a cut as our sample had shown. But how do we know that the MoJ’s assumptions are correct?
With four days left before the end of the consultation period, the details of this MoJ model have not been disclosed. The bar have no means whatsoever of testing the accuracy of the model or the validity of the assumptions which have been made. This consultation should be an exercise in scrutinising the evidence, but it has not been disclosed.
It is rightly said that the sample exercises performed by Lincoln House Chambers and others are limited in their scope. We cannot predict the effect across the criminal bar as a whole. But why is it that all studies which have looked at actual case data have shown the same thing? Why are we all losers?
We remain deeply concerned. We support the calls which have been made to the Criminal Bar Association and others to extend the consultation period so that the figures can be scrutinised properly.