Criminal barristers report four-month delays for legal aid payments

Criminal barristers are facing severe delays in the payment of legal aid fees by the Legal Services Commission (LSC), after the body took over responsibility for payments from Her Majesty’s Courts Service earlier this year.

The LSC, the government body which handles the administration of legal aid, took charge of barristers’ fees this April, and a number of barristers have since reported delays of up to four months for legal aid payments – a significant increase from the previously accepted timescale of 28 days.

The delays have led to an outcry from the Bar, with some young barristers set to be unable to afford to go to court due to the backlog in payments.

A number of criminal sets are understood to have been affected by the delays, including 9 Bedford Row, 25 Bedford Row and 4 Breams Buildings.

4 Breams Buildings barrister Michael Stradling said: “This is putting the criminal Bar in a very precarious position, as barristers are struggling to make ends meet, and cannot get loans from banks because of the current economic situation.”

25 Bedford Row’s John Cooper QC added: “The increased delays in the payment of criminal legal aid fees are adding extra intensity to the difficulties already being suffered by a wide range of members of the Bar.

“Particularly vulnerable to the inexcusable delays are the young barristers who are already struggling as a result of the cutbacks to public funding, but now on top of that are not being paid fees that are legitimately owed to them within a reasonable time.”

A spokesperson for the LSC said: “The LSC has an eight-week target for processing claims from barristers under the graduated fee scheme.

“Unfortunately, we are currently just outside this target by a matter of days. However, we are training new processing staff and expect to be back within the eight-week target soon. We are unaware of any payment taking four months.”

The government recently announced significant cuts to legal aid in the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is set to affect welfare benefits, clinical negligence, personal injury, debt, divorce, employment, immigration, and housing, including squatters resisting eviction.

The news comes after the LSC last week confirmed that chief executive Carolyn Downs is leaving the commission to take up a role as chief executive for the Local Government Association.