And it's worthy of Scrooge himself. From that date a whole host of further reductions take place which apply to all cases started after that date (or for certificates applications received from 9 December). It's important to get this information out there - many legal aid lawyers are so punch drunk now they don't appreciate these further cuts are about to descend and could trip them up at best or ruin them at worst - I spoke to a barrister the other week who does mostly legal aid but still didn't know that massive fee cuts which will half his income are now coming into force!
The unwanted gifts are:
Abolition of legal aid for most Prison law cases Specialist in this area will have to stop taking on most cases unless they have other funding. Proceedings before the Parole Board where the Board is considering whether to direct release, and advice and assistance in relation to sentence calculation stay in scope. Read about the damage this will cause on the Prison Advice Service site
Cutting all experts fee rates by 20% This will cause real problems. For example, after years of trying I have finally found a psychiatrist who knows how to write proper court reports and who is willing to travel to Cumbria in his weekends visiting my most deeply troubled clients who face eviction for behaviours associated with being chronically mentally ill. Current rate is a healthy £135 per hour (not including travel) The new rate is £108 per hour. I doubt if my chap will be willing to do it for that, and if he doesn't I can't replace him. Better start warning your experts now.
Note that translators rates outside London are also cut by 12.5%. Not all rates are cut - neurologists, neuroradiologists, and neonatologists escape as do housing disrepair surveyors, but as we can hardly ever run disrepair cases on legal aid any more it is an irrelevant concession.
Cutting all civil (non-family) barristers rates by 47% Yes you read that right - their pay is being HALVED. The current hourly rate for ex-London County Court barristers time is £112.50. It will drop to £59.40, a drop of £53.10, on all new cases started from next month.
I think this will gradually destroy the civil legal aid bar as we know it and solicitors will have to do far more advocacy. For example in housing work the clever and dedicated specialists upon whom legal aid solicitors have relied for decades will have to diversify into private work or get out. Their is a danger legal aid trials will either become a rushed and under-prepared effort for indebted junior generalists who can no longer afford to specialise, or will be a minority sport for the semi-retired specialist who has made his pile. My personal view is that eventually only the financially-comfortable-with-a-conscience will be able to practice legal aid; the day of the working class legal aid lawyer is nearly gone.
Removing legal aid for borderline cases (assessed at 50% or below chances of success). This doesn't sound unreasonable but is actually the worst cut as it deters innovative and creative test cases being taken. All the case law developments which established new rights and defences over the last 50 years were by definition borderline until they succeeded in opening the doors of justice to those coming after. Many fewer will be given funding now and social welfare law will wither on the vine.
Removing the uplift from Upper Tier Immigration Tribunal cases I understand this represents a 35% cut in pay for advocates doing the more complex asylum cases (most other immigration work is already out of scope)
As has been publicised by the criminal bar, there are a whole number of criminal legal aid cuts as well - notably 30% on the high cost criminal trials. There may be a QC's strike simply because they can afford to do it. The rest of the jobbing criminal bar can't so probably won't.
This of course is just wanton destruction. As we reported in September Grayling has admitted in parliament it's ideologically driven. But the real responsibility lies with all those politicians who yet again stood aside and allowed it through (LibDems) or failed to promise to reverse them and therefore deter the cuts (Labour) because they all believe there's no votes in legal aid.
P.S. Big hat-tip to the Legal Aid Handbook site for keeping everyone informed on this. They do a sterling job of charting and commentating on the technicalities of all the continuing legal aid reductions and changes, something we used to do back in the day when no-one else did so online, but now thankfully we don't have to as Simon and Vicky do such a diligent job of unearthing the regulations which the MoJ smuggles out. Also I should give a plug for Legal Voice which tends to give a "professional" take on legal aid matters