Judgment Upholds Classification of Legal Fees in R v Cameron Gatherar Appeal

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2928 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of R v Cameron Gatherar concerns an appeal regarding the appropriate categorization of legal fees under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. The appellant, a barrister representing himself, sought remuneration based on a ‘cracked trial’ rate, but the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) determined that the fees should be paid on the basis of ‘guilty pleas’ only. This article seeks to analyze the key topics discussed in the judgment and elucidate the legal principles applied.

Key Facts

The appellant represented the defendant, who faced 11 charges on a 12-count indictment. The defendant was involved with an organized crime gang and charged with serious offenses including firearm possession with intent to endanger life. Due to a psychiatric evaluation requirement, no plea was entered at the initial Pleas and Trial Preparation Hearing (PTPH). Later, the prosecution indicated that guilty pleas to a number of counts were acceptable, and the defendant was arraigned on those charges.

The Determining Officer from the LAA decided the fees should be calculated based on ‘guilty pleas’ as the case was not classified as a ‘cracked trial’. The appellant disagreed, arguing that an earlier indication of a not guilty plea and the amount of preparatory work done should result in the classification of a ‘cracked trial’, thereby changing the remuneration rate.

The key legal principles involve the interpretation of what constitutes a ‘cracked trial’ versus a ‘guilty plea’ under the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. According to Schedule 1, a ‘cracked trial’ is defined where the defendant initially pleads not guilty and the case does not proceed to trial for various reasons, or the case is listed for trial without a hearing at which the defendant enters a plea. A ‘guilty plea’ occurs when the case is disposed of without a trial due to a plea of guilty and is not classified as a ‘cracked trial’.

Costs Judge Brown referred to previously decided cases, such as R v Barzey [2022] EWHC 1775 (SCCO) and R v Lamin SCCO 175/19, for guidance on the interpretation of ‘cracked trial’. These cases established the principle that there must be no hearing at which the assisted person entered a plea for a case to fall under limb (b) of the ‘cracked trial’ definition, and not merely that the trial was listed before such a plea was entered.

Outcomes

The Costs Judge concluded that since there was a hearing where the assisted person entered a plea, limb (b) of the ‘cracked trial’ definition could not apply. Despite the appellant’s argument emphasizing the unfairness of the fee scheme in light of the amount of work completed near trial, the Judge maintained that the regulations did not grant discretion for fee determination and had to be applied mechanistically, even if that resulted in perceived unfairness in compensation.

Therefore, the appeal was rejected, upholding the Determining Officer’s decision to award fees based on the ‘guilty plea’ categorization.

Conclusion

The case R v Cameron Gatherar highlights the strict interpretation of the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 in determining legal fees. The judgment reinforces the principle that a ‘cracked trial’ requires specific conditions to be met, which were not satisfied in this instance. The case underscores the need for advocates to understand the intricacies of the fee scheme and how cases are categorized, emphasizing that the perceived quantity of pre-trial work cannot influence the classification of fees. As evidenced by this case and prior related judgments, the remuneration scheme is not intended to provide subjective discretion but rather to be applied based on the clear definitions provided by the regulations.

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