Lawyers' Bills in Fraud Cases to Be Curbed

Article excerpt

BARRISTERS' AND solicitors' bills in serious fraud cases are to be substantially cut back under new proposals to be put forward today by the Legal Aid Board (LAB).

The clamp-down includes restricting barristers to hourly rates so that they are paid no more than the judges before whom they appear, which can happen under the present system. Under the proposals, teams of lawyers will also have to produce up-to-date assessments of how much each case will cost.

The move follows a number of high-profile fraud cases where the Lord Chancellor's Department has been asked to rubber stamp multi- million pound bills.

The most costly case to date was the Serious Fraud Office's prosecution of the Maxwell brothers which, at its conclusion, amounted to pounds 15.9 million in legal aid. Defence lawyers in the Guinness case received pounds 2.4 million, the BCCI case involved legal aid costs of pounds 4.3 million while the Brent Walker bill was pounds 2.3 million.

Richard Collins, head of criminal services at the LAB, said that it was cases like these which had prompted public concern over the cost of defending serious frauds. He said the present system was "wholly ineffective" with costs running out of control.

He said 1 per cent of all criminal cases represented 40 per cent of the pounds 349 million Crown Court legal aid budget.

The LAB said the Government had failed to deliver sufficient controls in dealing with the escalating costs of serious fraud cases and the larger drugs trials which made up the 1 per cent. …