High Court Rules in Favor of Defense Counsel in R v Victoria Amas Case, Recognizing Electronic Evidence in Remuneration Calculation

Citation: [2024] EWHC 447 (SCCO)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of R v Victoria Amas, the High Court of Justice Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO) deliberated on an appeal concerning the appropriate remuneration for defence counsel under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme, as set out in the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013. This case specifically dealt with the claim for payment for special preparation in relation to the handling of Pages of Prosecution Evidence (PPE) and electronic evidence that had never existed in paper form.

Key Facts

The appellant represented defendant Victoria Amas in a protracted prosecution involving VAT evasion and other fraudulent activities. The case extended over several years and involved multiple trial listings. The prosecution relied heavily on evidence from Paul Lawlor, the accountant for Amas’ co-defendant, and provided a significant amount of electronic evidence. The crux of the appeal revolved around the inclusion of electronically stored exhibits tied to Lawlor’s evidence, a matter critical for calculating the payment due to the appellant under the special preparation fee.

The legal principles discussed in the judgement include the interpretation of the “PPE count” and the provisions for calculating it, the distinction between PPE and “unused material,” the criteria for special preparation fees and the inclusion of electronic evidence in the PPE count.

The court analyzed paragraphs 1(2)-(5) of Schedule 1 to the Regulations, which calculate the PPE count. The court also referred to paragraph 17 of Schedule 1 concerning additional fees payable under certain circumstances, such as when preparation exceeds the norm due to unusual or novel legal or factual issues, or when PPE exceeds a 10,000-page cap.

Notably, the court considered the principles set out in Lord Chancellor v Edward Hayes LLP [2017] EWHC 138 (QB) and Lord Chancellor v SVS Solicitors [2017] EWHC 1045 (QB), which provided guidance on the treatment of electronic evidence that never existed in paper form and its informal service.

Outcomes

COSTS JUDGE LEONARD allowed the appeal in full, recognizing that the material in question was crucial for the trial and not merely “unused material.” Accordingly, this material was included in the PPE count, leading to the conclusion that all 21,400 pages of evidence supplied by Mr. Lawlor’s statement should be accounted for beyond the 10,000 pages PPE cap. This translated to a special preparation claim for reviewing an additional 20,400 pages.

Conclusion

The decision in R v Victoria Amas underscores the evolving nature of evidence in criminal trials, particularly the status of electronic evidence that has not existed in traditional paper form, and its impact on legal remuneration. The judgement reaffirms that the core relevance of such evidence to a case can warrant its inclusion in the PPE count. Additionally, it adheres to the principle that formal service is not necessary for electronic evidence to be included in PPE, resonating with the legal rationale established in Edward Hayes LLP and SVS Solicitors. For practitioners, this ruling highlights the importance of clarity and consistency in presenting claims and ensures that remuneration reflects the substantial preparatory work necessitated by complex electronic evidence in criminal proceedings.

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