Psychology

Legal aid: firm paid £1,387 less than psychologist it instructed | News

A legal aid firm was paid £1,387 less than a psychologist the firm commissioned to prepare a report for his vulnerable client, MPs have heard.

Attorney Kerry Morgan, director of Manchester firm Morgan Brown Solicitors, testified to the House of Commons Judges’ Committee, highlighting examples that illustrate why legal aid lawyers are dissatisfied with pay.

The commission learned that Morgan has a young client with learning difficulties who has been charged with dangerous driving, motor vehicle theft and burglary. Morgan instructed a psychologist, who received £1,591.20. Morgan’s firm received £204.92.

In another example, from a murder trial, she said, “It should always have been charged as manslaughter. I spent 126 hours on that case. The prosecution is now suggesting they would accept manslaughter, so the trial may very well be cracking. If it bursts, even if fully prepared, the fee is £3,226. If it comes to court, it’s £5,078. The fee itself isn’t good enough for a murder case. But there’s no reason why I should be paid less because the prosecutor decides to change the charges at the last minute. That is the situation we face. It’s impossible to run a business and calculate cash flow when faced with those kinds of decisions.”

Morgan said litigation costs shouldn’t be lower because the charges change or the case cracks.

The committee also heard from the Law Society’s chief justice, Richard Miller, who said the Bellamy review stated that lawyers were in a much worse position than barristers. “That’s why we just don’t understand why it’s the [Ministry of Justice] offered a larger share to lawyers than lawyers. The evidence was clear, they were lawyers who were in absolute immediate crisis and yet we only get 9% and lawyers got the full 15% that Sir Christopher [Bellamy] recommended.’

Should the government’s full response to the Bellamy review, expected this month, be unsatisfactory, the Law Society will advise members to shun criminal legal aid.

Miller said: “If the government is unwilling to pay what their own independent expert considers to be the minimum necessary to make this work economically viable, it is really difficult to see how any lawyer could meet his obligation to company in a proper business manner to conduct criminal defense work. It is really unfortunate that the choices made by the government here put us in the position to have to give that advice to our members. But their professional obligations are clear.’

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