MoJ confirms 20% cut to Expert Witness fees
After a “consultation period” lasting several months, that sparked protests by interested parties from across the legal profession, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) finally confirmed last week that they will be going ahead with the 20% reduction of fees for Expert Witnesses for civil, family & criminal proceedings.
The austerity measures being implemented by the Ministry of Justice have affected almost areas of Legal Aid from Barristers and Solicitors, to individuals seeking legal representation under the Legal Aid scheme. Whilst the reductions imposed on Solicitors received much attention (and some changes to the proposals) thanks to the widespread and highly publicised protests, the cuts to Expert Witness fees have gone largely unnoticed. These come on top of an earlier 10% reduction in fees, a capping of the number of hours allowed for Expert Witness reports and the changes in guidance for the use of Expert Witnesses in the Family Courts. The later was introduced in January of this year whereby, previously “evidence from experts including psychologists, doctors and others would be heard if it was “reasonably required”. Now the judge will apply a tougher test and only allow the evidence if it is “necessary”. According to anecdotal evidence this has already seen a 60% reduction in the use of Expert Witness evidence in Family Law cases, so why the need to reduce Expert Fees in addition to this? There is now great concern that many highly experience Expert Witnesses will now leave the profession altogether.
In a letter received less than 2 days before the cuts are due to be enforced the Legal Aid Agency said:
The Government’s Transforming Legal Aid consultation paper, published April 2013, sought views on a proposed 20% reduction in fees payable to experts in civil, family and criminal proceedings in order to ensure that the fees paid to experts under legal aid deliver value for money to the taxpayer and more accurately reflect the fees paid to experts elsewhere.
Having considered the responses to the consultation, the Government announced in its Transforming legal aid: Next steps consultation response paper (September 2013) that it had decided to proceed with the proposal to reduce the fees payable to most experts in civil, family and criminal proceedings by 20% as proposed. However, in the light of recent changes to ensure market supply, the Government decided to modify the proposal in respect of:
– Neurologists, Neuroradiologists and Neonatologists in clinical negligence (cerebral palsy) cases where the higher rates recently set out in guidance to the LAA will be codified;
– Surveyors in housing disrepair cases where the current rates codified in the Civil Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 will be retained; and
– Interpreters, where the current rates payable to interpreters inside London will be retained; and rates payable to interpreters outside London will be reduced by 12.5%.
The rates in the Remuneration Regulations (as amended) will apply to all work undertaken by experts in all civil, family and crime work with a case start date or representation order date of on or after 2nd December 2013.
The LAA has updated its guidance on the remuneration of expert witnesses to reflect the change in rates. This can be obtained here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/legal-aid/funding/using-experts