Section 5: Summary
The Panel appreciates that the current statutory framework is not flexible enough to fully modernise the pay regime currently in operation. It became clear during discussions that the potential for improvement within the current regime was limited. It recognised the challenges in determining a fee rate based on the current models of fees; there is no baseline evidence on which to base a transparent assessment of what fair remuneration means and how this might be applied to the wide range of legal services being delivered by solicitors, law centres, third sector organisations and advocates. The current models are struggling to keep up with changes in court practice and often don’t reflect work undertaken.
The Panel was keen to avoid a process that mirrors the current system of negotiating fees from the basis of what is already in place, as that lacks robustness and clarity for all of those involved. The panel have concluded that using inflation as a basis for fee increases was not the correct approach. A future evidence guided process of reviewing rates of remuneration should therefore not be based on the current system.
The Panel was asked to agree the framework for an evidence guided process and it recognised that there are a number of factors that should be taken into account in determining appropriate payment levels for legal services, such as those outlined above. It is clear that an understanding of user views and experiences, how the market operates, and the challenges faced by solicitors and advocates currently play little part in determining fee levels, and that is an omission that should not continue in the future.
The future sustainability of the system and ensuring that we continue to have suitably skilled solicitors willing to undertake legal aid work is important in being able to design the delivery framework for a reformed legal aid system. Developing indicators that can be used to measure the health of the market would allow for analysis of the range of factors in a transparent and consistent fashion.
Also, a review of legal aid payment and reform of the legal aid system provides an opportunity to move towards a range of payment methods that enable funds to be targeted towards particular priorities and to ensure particular levels of service.