QCs claim `astonishing' legal aid fees

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MICHAEL MANSFIELD QC, the leading radical lawyer, claimed pounds 416 an hour for work in one of a series of senior barristers' legal aid claims. The bills were described yesterday as "quite astonishing" by the chair of the highest court in the land.

Lord Browne-Wilkinson, chairing the Appeal Committee of the House of Lords, said it was "pretty shattering" that the bills submitted by four of the country's leading QCs had all had to be drastically cut because they were so excessive.

"All the information shows we have got quite astonishing fees claimed compared with what was subsequently allowed," he said. "We have not got a single fee which has been claimed by counsel which has been allowed."

Details of the charges made by Mr Mansfield were revealed during the second day of an inquiry into criminal legal aid bills for appeals heard in the House of Lords. The inquiry follows widespread concerns that criminal legal aid fees are running out of control.

Mr Mansfield, who had been appearing for Gary Mills and Tony Poole in their unsuccessful appeal against a murder conviction, claimed a "brief fee" of pounds 20,000, which included 43 hours preparation and the first day in court.

Nigel Pleming QC, representing the Lord Chancellor, told the hearing that the average day before the Law Lords lasted five hours - giving a total worked by Mr Mansfield of 48 hours.

Mr Mansfield had also claimed pounds 1,000 a day for the subsequent two days of the hearing - which was allowed by the House of Lords officials.

Another leading QC, Richard Henriques, claimed pounds 288 an hour brief fee for another murder case appeal heard by the Law Lords.

He worked 80.5 hours to prepare, at a self-assessed rate of pounds 175 per hour, then added a 65 per cent "uplift" in order "to reflect the care, control and conduct of a case in the House of Lords". He then added expenses and rounded the total up to pounds 25,000. That claim has not yet been settled.

Mr Pleming told the hearing that in another case, the brief fees submitted by Peter Feinberg QC and his junior had risen by more than 400 per cent as the case went through the appeal system.

At the six-day trial they claimed pounds 15,000. But when the case went to the House of Lords for a three-day hearing last February they claimed a total of pounds 69,311, reduced by Lords officials to pounds 28,341.42.

James Munby QC, representing the barristers who submitted the disputed bills, said their fees had been worked out by their clerks telephoningother chambers to establish "the going rate". He said the cases were so important that there was an extra responsibility on the lawyers involved.

He cited the case of Philip English, jailed for life for the murder of police sergeant Bill Forth. Mr English was under arrest at the time a friend of his attacked the officer, but he was convicted under the doctrine of "joint enterprise".

Christopher Sallon QC took the case to the House of Lords and had the conviction overturned, establishing a legal precedent. His bill is among those rejected as too high.

Judgement was reserved by the Law Lords.