The Law Society has withdrawn from a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) working group over concerns about the transparency of the scheme. The Society has been involved with the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS) working group since 2015, but recently announced that it had written to inform the MoJ that it would cease to be a part of the group.
The Law Society of England and Wales is one of the most prominent and influential professional bodies for the legal industry. Representing the interests of both solicitors and the public, its withdrawal from the MoJ working group is significant if only because of the Society’s prominence in the UK legal landscape.
According to the president of the Society, Robert Bourns, the decision to withdraw from the working group was made after “restrictions on how information was shared meant it was not possible for us to contribute to the process in a meaningful way.”
The Law Society expressed concerns about restrictions on the open and transparent use of information, and in particular with its inability to share information and documentation with its own committee of experts. In particular, Law Society members of the AGFS working group “had concerns about late changes to proposals,” said Bourns, but were not allowed to confidentially discuss their concerns with the expert committee of the Law Society.
Bourns continued: “As we are unable to discuss with our expert committee, the Society feels unable to continue to participate in this working group.”
The Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme or AGFS is the scheme that governs legal aid payments for Crown Court advocates. Both barristers and higher court advocates are subject to the scheme, which the MoJ working group aims to review and potentially reform.
The Law Society of England and Wales said that it still intended to take part in public consultations on the review of AGFS, but did not feel that remaining an actual part of the working group would give any added benefit or influence under current terms. In a statement, the society president also made a point of stating that the Society would remain a part of another, related working group concerned with the legal aid payment scheme for litigators.
The Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) working group, Bourns said, would continue to benefit from the involvement and contributions from the Law Society. The decision to remain in this group but withdraw from the other, according to Bourns, was that the LGFS group’s “current terms of engagement allow us to make a meaningful contribution with appropriate input from our committee.”