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THE BAR Council has drawn up its blueprint for a scheme to regulate civil court fees in a bid to head off the Lord Chancellor's Department's (LCD) controversial fixed fees proposals.
A Bar Council working party, headed by Roderick Wood QC, has just submitted the blueprint to the LCD in the hope that the department will accept the scheme in place of the Government's original standard fees proposals which caused a storm of protest at the Bar when they were unveiled by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, last year.
The original proposals, described by Bar Council chairman Robert Owen QC as "crude and simplistic", envisaged barristers being paid fixed fees for the preparation of briefs, followed by daily payments for attendance in court.
The Bar Council claimed the reforms would lead to dramatic cuts in barristers' fees, and that they went against the spirit of Lord Woolf's proposals by failing to recognise the value of pre-trial preparation.
It has tried to inject greater flexibility into its own scheme, based on the graduated fees scheme already operating in the crown courts, to allow for the varying complexity of cases.
Under its proposals, explained to the profession during a series of roadshows last month, advocates would be paid a fixed fee which would then increase depending on whether it fulfilled various criteria designed to measure the complexity of the case.
Although the plans have generally been well-received, one element that has proved controversial is the plan to pay a different basic fee for personal injury, chancery and commercial or family cases.
Michael Farrell, senior clerk at Rodney Klevan QC's Manchester chambers 18 St John Street, said barristers and clerks preferred the current system, whereby clerks submitted individual claims for work, but they realised that the system had to be reformed.
Tony McDaid, senior clerk at Birmingham's 5 Fountain Court, the largest chambers in England, said there were fears the system would fail to reward the more senior barristers.
"Under graduated fees junior barristers are being paid more, but the senior barristers are being hit, and I believe the same thing may happen under this new system," he said.