The Government asked Lord Carter of Coles to lead an independent review of legal aid remuneration. He reported in July 2006 and the Government accepted his recommendation. Some fees to Counsel were reduced and others increased. The net effect was a 9 per cent. increase in fees paid for defence advocacy services. As a result, while prosecution and defence fees had previously been broadly aligned, there is now a disparity between prosecution and defence fees. Prosecution fees are higher than defence fees in the longer, more complex cases, while defence fees are higher in the higher volume of shorter cases in the Crown court.
The appropriate fees for counsel undertaking prosecution work is a matter for the Attorney-General and the Crown Prosecution Service. However, I am aware that discussions are proceeding between the CPS and the Bar Council about possible ways of redistributing current expenditure on prosecution fees to reduce the disparity.
I do not believe that absolute parity between legal aid and prosecution rates is essential for several reasons as the CPS is not purchasing the same services from the self employed Bar as the Legal Service's Commission purchases through legal aid. The CPS as litigators have much greater control over the work undertaken by self employed barristers. Much of the CPS ancillary work and preparatory work more generally, can be undertaken by in house litigators and by Higher Court Advocates.