Checks cut legal aid fees by 25%

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The Independent Online
Barristers' bills in expensive criminal legal aid cases are reduced on average by a quarter, and solicitors' by a fifth, when they are centrally audited to see if they are "reasonable", figures from the Lord Chancellor's Department show.

If lawyers' costs in the fraud case involving Kevin and Ian Maxwell are treated in this way they will lose between £2m and £2.5m on a bill expected to exceed £10m.

All bills of more than £4,000 are checked, or "taxed", before payment. For barristers, the figures show that in 1993-94, there were 6,788 cases centrally taxed, involving a total of £99,582,218, an average per case of £14,670. The average amount paid was73 per cent of the claim.

There were 3,039 solicitors' bills over £4,000, an average of £13,057 each, adding up to £39,679,527. On average, 82 per cent of these bills were allowed.

Money is paid on the basis of "reasonable remuneration for work actually and reasonably done". Solicitors are normally paid at an hourly rate of £33 for an articled clerk and £45 to £75 for a legal executive. In complex cases they can argue for a higher rate. Barristers charge a brief fee to cover preparation and court work.

Seventy per cent of cases, are not covered by taxing because they are paid at a standard rate.

The total sum in criminal legal aid fees paid in the year covered by these figures was £427m. The Lord Chancellor's department is shortly to publish a Green Paper suggesting ways to cut the cost of legal aid.