Legal aid neglects solicitors' fees, claims leading lawyer

TOO much legal aid money is spent on unregulated expert witness fees and disbursements and not enough on solicitor’s fees, a prominent solicitor has argued.

Judith Goodman, of Goodman Ray solicitors, backed by Tony Edwards, senior partner of TV Edwards & Co, and others, urged colleagues attending a Legal Aid Practitioners Group conference held in Harrogate on 19 April to campaign for a “more equitable fee structure”.

She called for the regulation of QCs’ fees and expert witness fees and claimed junior barristers were being “stifled” by the current legal aid rules.

“When experts, such as surveyors, valuers and doctors, claim their fees, they can simply pluck figures from the air, which is costing the Legal Aid Board a lot of money,” Goodman told the conference. “I would like to see a joint initiative between the Law Society and the Legal Aid Board to regulate these fees.

“Top QCs are earning scandalous amounts. The junior Bar is being stifled and we have low rates of pay for solicitors.”

Edwards said the board or the Law Society should be “pushed” to negotiate the cost of disbursements.

Bill Montague, former group chair and a partner at Reading firm Dexter Montague & Partners, commented: “This is not something we have campaigned on before. I would be interested to hear what other practitioners think of barristers’ fees.”