Court ruling in R v Michael Pipe clarifies fees classification for pre-trial negotiations under LGFS

Citation: [2024] EWHC 106 (SCCO)
Judgment on


In the Senior Courts Costs Office ruling of R v Michael Pipe, Costs Judge Whalan delivered a judgment on an appeal under Regulation 29 of the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 concerning the classification of legal fees under the Litigator’s Graduated Fees Scheme (LGFS). The pivot of discord was whether the fee due for the hearing should be remunerated as a “trial” or a “cracked trial” fee.

Key Facts

Martyn Prowel Gartside Solicitors, herein the Appellants, disputed the Legal Aid Agency’s decision (the Respondent) regarding the fee category applicable to their handling of the case involving Mr. Michael Pipe, who was indicted for conspiring to supply amphetamine. The case, originally listed as a two-week trial due to COVID-19 related adjournments, underwent complex negotiations and subsequent plea change on the first two days of the trial.

The Appellants contended that the engagement and negotiations over the 89-page ‘Timeline document’ presented by the prosecution, detailing the Defendant’s alleged criminality, were substantive enough to qualify as “substantial matters of case management.” As a result of their discussions, an ‘Agreed Basis of Plea’ was formulated, leading to a guilty plea and comparatively a reduced sentence for the Defendant.

The adjudication orbits around the interpretation of what constitutes the commencement of a trial under the 2013 Regulations and subsequent case law. The fulcrum of the legal principle hinged on “substantial case management” and whether the activities constituted the trial’s initiation.

Citing the precedents set out in Lord Chancellor v. Ian Henery Solicitors Limited [2011] EWHC 3246 (QB) and other associated cases like R v. Barnes [2022] SCCO EWHC 1539 (SCCO), R v. Coles [2017] SCCO Ref: 51/16, and R v. Lamonby [2024] EWHC 22 (SCCO), Judge Whalan examined the characteristics of a trial’s commencement beyond the mere swearing of a jury. The analysis emphasised that substantial engagement on case management issues, including substantial negotiations on evidence, could signal the beginning of a trial.

The Judge reflected that sustained negotiations impacting the indictment’s factual basis and affecting the trial’s anticipated length aligned with “substantial” case management that led to the plea change, thus qualifying the hearing as a trial in a “meaningful sense.”


Judge Whalan allowed the appeal, finding that the hearing on the 5th and 6th of July 2021 should be considered a trial, rejecting the Respondent’s argument that no trial began since no jury was sworn and no evidence was presented. As per paragraph 96(6) of Henery, the trial had commenced as the significant management and negotiation evidenced the commencement of a trial in a meaningful sense. The Appellants were awarded additional payment for trial fees, assessed costs of £1,000 (+ any VAT payable), and the £100 paid on appeal.


The judgment of R v Michael Pipe underscores a nuanced approach in interpreting the onset of a trial, with recognition of the complexities entailed in pre-trial negotiations and their potential to satisfy the criteria of a trial’s initiation under LGFS. It reinforces the notion that the legal process’s administrative underpinnings, specifically substantial case management activities, can be determinative of case fee classification within the remits of criminal legal aid remuneration. The case adds to the growing jurisprudence on the interpretation and application of the terms “trial” and “cracked trial”, proffering clarity on the nuances of the graduated fee schemes for future litigators and judicial officers.