CPS: Counsel Fee Review
In January this year the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) commenced a comprehensive evidenced-based review of our advocate fee schemes. I am now able to provide information on further adjustments to fee schemes, following on from the changes implemented on 1 September.
I can summarise the main changes we will be making from 1 February 2020 as being:
- increasing a range of brief fees, for trial and guilty plea cases, for junior advocates;
- increasing a range of daily (refresher) fees;
- introducing additional payments to all advocates for the prosecution of multi-defendant cases;
- providing additional payment for consideration of unused material;
- making targeted adjustments to the Very High Cost Case scheme; and
- increasing rates paid to advocates prosecuting in magistrates’ courts and the Youth Court.
Before I get into the detail, I should like to acknowledge the important contribution the self-employed Bar has made to the work of the CPS over the last 30 years or so, a relationship which I hope will endure in the future. Prosecuting advocates play an essential role in our criminal justice system, making it one of the best in the world. The dedication and hard work of the criminal Bar is clear to see whilst adapting to new ways of working, new forms of digital evidence and the increasing complexity of criminal cases.
The review of counsel fees has been a significant project for us. There have been three keys strands of activity. First, the agreement and implementation of the interim offer; second, the review of 3,000 Crown Court case files to provide the evidence base of what makes up a modern prosecution case, and third, the full review of fee schemes, which culminated in a report to the joint CPS/Bar Steering Group on 4 October. Underpinning this activity, the CPS team also embarked on two rounds of reference group meetings, visiting each Circuit twice and engaging with criminal practitioners face to face to hear and discuss their issues in relation to fees.
I should emphasise that we envisage this work being the start of a closer relationship where we can resolve issues in the future where there is a shared interest.
I am pleased to report that we made good progress, proceeding at pace but engaging fully with the Bar at each stage. I must give particular thanks to the Bar team for their contribution to this work. The leadership of the Bar and CBA, representatives of the Young Barristers’ Committee, the Bar analyst, Professor Chalkley, and practitioners at reference group events all made candid and robust contributions to debates about fee schemes, fee rates and priorities, but always in a professional and respectful manner. Of course, the CPS also had to explain the limitations of what we could achieve within the funding envelope available to us and we were pleased that these were heard and acknowledged. It is critical to the healthy relationship of the CPS and Bar going forward that the spirit in which the joint working took place this year is maintained and avenues for regular discussion and debate remain open.
I am now in a position to announce implementation plans for the second stage of fee adjustments this year but before I do I would like to remind you of the headline detail of the interim offer, effective from 1 September, when we implemented the following adjustments as the first part of the new package:
- fixed fees were increased to the level of the defence Advocates’ Graduated Fees Scheme
- refreshers are now being paid from the second day of trial
- refreshers in long running trials are no longer reduced from day 41
- full fees are being paid from the first day of the trial, with a new definition of the start of the trial
- payment is being made earlier at the conclusion of the trial, where sentence is adjourned.
I understand practitioners are now starting to see the financial benefit of the September changes and that is welcome news.
After the recommendations were presented to the Steering Group on 4 October we held further meetings to discuss the detail and work through some of the choices available. This work has now concluded and I can now announce the further adjustments we will be implementing. I must make clear that we reached the very limit of our room to manoeuvre in these discussions and had no scope for further concessions.
The improvements being announced today are set out at Annex A with proposed new rate tables at Annex B. It might be helpful for practitioners to see the impact of the new package (of both the interim and final offers) in a range of example case scenarios and those are attached at Annex C.
The adjustments seek to address the priority issues identified by the Bar with a particular focus on assisting the junior barristers. I accept the improvements attached might not meet the expectations of everyone, and some might remain disappointed, but it represents a significant positive shift to the fee package overall.
The CPS will continue to work closely with the legal profession, including leadership from the Bar Council, the Criminal Bar Association and the Young Barristers’ Committee, on the implementation of the full range of new fees. I am committed to keeping the schemes under continuing review to ensure they are fit for purpose, and in 2020 we will consider a range of issues already identified, listed at Annex D. This will allow the business case for any future reforms to be developed. The CPS team will return to each Circuit early in the New Year to engage with practitioners to further inform this work.
Not all of the issues identified by the Bar could be reviewed this year. In some instances it was because we did not have sufficiently robust evidence available on which to make informed decisions, for example the two counsel decision tree and rates in the Very High Cost Case (VHCC) scheme.
It is well understood that the lack of regular reviews over recent years has caused a backlog of issues to build-up causing concern and anxiety amongst practitioners. I hope the improvements I am announcing in this letter today will go some way to alleviating those concerns.
As you will see I am planning for the new arrangements to come into effect from 1 February 2020 and we will continue to work with the Bar on the detail required to implement the changes, particularly when redrafting to the Manual of Guidance.
Thank you again to those who contributed to this work.
Chief Executive Officer
Crown Prosecution Service