The effects of the Ministry of Justice’s 30% cut to Legal Aid fees have been widely reported – and, perhaps justifiably, deplored. The historic walk-out by barristers earlier this year struck headlines with considerable force, as the public confronted the realities of a legal system no more immune to the swinging of the fiscal sword than any other service.
Asked to envisage those most likely to suffer as a result of the cuts, most might be forgiven for picturing anxious parents unable to fund a challenge to an unfavourable residency order, or tenants left without help to face rogue landlords.
Whether those watching the protest outside the High Court would have envisaged multi-million pound fraud trials as ‘victims’ of the cuts is doubtful – but a recent article in the Law Gazette suggests just that.
The Gazette has found that a £200m conspiracy trial and a £100m film financing case risk being abandoned simply because counsel cannot be found to represent the defendants.
Frantic attempts to find practitioners with the relevant expertise willing to take on a complex fraud case at a 30% fee cut have proved fruitless: lawyers are loathe to take on Very High Cost Cases (VHCC) at so drastically reduced a fee. Various shenanigans have been afoot in an attempt to secure advocates, including downgrading the trials from VHCC to graduated fee cases, but thus far without success. The courts are faced with choosing between the proverbial rock and hard place: abandon the trials altogether, or proceed with defendants left unrepresented.
It would seem that central to Government’s ongoing cuts regime is the notion that cutting costs takes primacy over securing best value for money. To consider these two aims as a single imperative is to misunderstand the concept of value for money: cheapest – as the uncertain fate of these cases demonstrates – is not always best.
Firms and chambers are seeking more than ever to secure and provide best value – and it is crucial that mere cost-cutting is not seen as the sole aim. Rather, firms should ensure that their clients are provided with the best possible service for their spend, from the earliest stages of case preparation through to advocacy in the courts.
Legastat has a long tradition of close partnership working with legal professionals to provide litigation support services that best meet their needs. We combine a thorough understanding of key legal issues of the day with a truly innovative approach to legal tech – and help ensure firms provide clients with a service that truly represents best value.