Court Rules in Favor of Appellant in AGFS Reading Fee Dispute

Citation: [2024] EWHC 104 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of R v James Donnelly, heard before Costs Judge Whalan in the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO), the focal point of the appeal centered around the appropriate remuneration for legal services provided under the Advocate’s Graduated Fees Scheme (AGFS), specifically regarding reading evidence related to a Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA) hearing. This analysis seeks to elucidate the legal principles applied and to dissect the court’s reasoning behind the decision that was made in favor of the Appellant, Mr. Phil Tully, Counsel for James Donnelly.

Key Facts

Mr. Phil Tully challenged the assessment made by the Determining Officer at the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which concluded that only 10 pages were assessable for remuneration rather than the 314 pages claimed. The dispute arose after a POCA hearing, where Mr. Tully had submitted a claim for reading the provided evidence, based on guidelines set by the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. The pivotal issue was whether the additional 304 pages of evidence, which were not physically attached but referred to in the s.16 statement and uploaded to the Digital Case System (DCS), should be included in the fee calculation.

The 2013 Regulations prescribe the remuneration for legal representatives in POCA hearings, particularly detailing what constitutes ‘evidence’ under the remuneration scheme. According to paragraph 14(3) of Schedule 1 to the 2013 Regulations, evidence encompasses the s.16 statement and any annexes and exhibits attached to it, as well as documents served or referred to that the prosecution intends to rely upon.

In interpreting these provisions, the court applied a practical approach in light of evolving practices in criminal proceedings, particularly the use of the DCS. The court placed emphasis on the language ‘any attached annexes and exhibits’ in paragraph 14(3), noting the practical shift away from physically appended documentation to digital uploads. The court’s interpretation hinged on establishing a correlation between the uploaded documentation and the s.16 statement.

Outcomes

The court concluded that the full 314 pages claimed by the Appellant were indeed ‘evidence’, which fell within the ambit of paragraph 14(3) of Schedule 1 of the 2013 Regulations. The appeal was allowed on the grounds that all three conditions specified in paragraph 3(b) must apply cumulatively for the pages to be included as ‘evidence’. It was found that the referred documentation, uploaded to the POCA section of the DCS and specifically cited in the s.16 statement, met the requirements.

Costs Judge Whalan awarded the Appellant the return of the £100 appeal fee and additional costs of £500, plus any applicable VAT, recognizing the appeal’s success.

Conclusion

The decision in R v James Donnelly illustrates the SCCO’s responsiveness to current digital practices within criminal proceedings and provides clarity on the application of the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 in the context of reading fees associated with POCA hearings. The court acknowledged the need for practical interpretation of terms like ‘attached annexes and exhibits’ to keep in step with the advent of digital case systems. This verdict reinforces the principle that remuneration schemes must align with the evolving nature of legal practice, ensuring the fair and reasonable compensation of legal representatives. This case will serve as a guide for future cases where electronic documentation and digital uploads play a significant role in proceedings.

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