THE LORD Chancellor's Department is pressing ahead with a radical new system of paying barristers for legal aid work, despite problems highlighted by consultants.
KMPG Peat Marwick was asked to come up with a model for "graduated fees" - a form of standardised legal aid payment for barristers - but ran into problems due to wide variations in payments.
The consultants were unable to devise a scheme guaranteeing that the overall level of fees would remain constant and called for a fresh approach and a return to first principles.
But the LCD is going ahead with graduated fees after tinkering with the proposals to make them more sensitive to different types of case.
All barristers doing legal aid work in the Crown Court will be paid a set appearance fee for given groups of offences. Uplifts will be fixed according to the seriousness of the case, the duration, the volume of material and the number of witnesses and defendants.
The new pay system, due to come into force in the spring, will apply to all cases in the Crown Court lasting up to 10 days, and will replace the existing standard fee system for trials lasting up to three days.
"We have found the KPMG survey extremely useful," an LCD spokeswoman says.
"It highlighted areas where the system would not be sensitive enough to the variation in fees," she says. The LCD has created more categories of offences to overcome the problem.
The Lord Chancellor wants to apply the same scheme to Crown Court solicitor-advocates, but negotiations with the Law Society are on-going.
The society will argue that the scheme should not apply to solicitors because it does not take into account the way in which they work.