Barristers flag up fees dilemma

Criminal defence set 25 Bedford Row has warned that the payment system for publicly funded ‘one case, one fee’ (Ocof) work is ­putting too much power in the hands of solicitors.

Chambers administrator Jacky Chase told The Lawyer that the scheme results in the fees going to the first advocate in the proceedings, with that person then taking responsibility for dishing them out to the other lawyers.
Chase said this has led to difficulties when the first person named is a solicitor.

“Solicitor advocates may start off cases but then pass on responsibility to counsel for the trial,” she said. “Best practice says that the trial advocate should get 70 per cent of the fee, but I know that this hasn’t always been the case in the regions, with solicitors giving themselves a higher percentage.”

Chase added that, while this scenario is rare, it has left many chambers uneasy and calling for a system that ensures clarity over pay.

“If the court service had a central system listing of all the advocates and what part of the case they heard that clerks could access, it would mean all parties would know how much they’re exactly entitled to,” said Chase. ;“It’s ;a ;simple ­solution, but of course it costs money.”

The call for a change in the system by 25 Bedford Row comes as banks are also becoming jittery over the payment set-up of Ocofs.

Allied ;Irish ;Bank ­corporate business manager Roger Downer told The Lawyer the protocol causes confusion as it means cheques are made out to the first advocate while the accounts held with the banks would be in the name of their chambers.

“Collecting banks will lose some of the protections ­provided under the Cheques Act [1986] when collecting cheques made payable to third parties,” said Downer. “Banks will most likely expect to see quality marks, which ;demonstrates the chambers have the ­standards required.”