I need a drink. Look away if you don’t want to hear me whine with self pity. On 4 August the demise of the SIP (Special Issue Payment), which just about makes the Graduated Fee Scheme worth doing, becomes a reality. The changes have only just been confirmed: in essence some SIPs are abolished altogether, others are worth less than previously and the Special Preparation Fees will have to be justified in ways which are as yet unclear. In spite of the proximity of the changes the new SIP forms and claim forms are not yet available for scrutiny and the practical implications of the changes are completely opaque.
Most importantly, for those of us with long standing obligations in our diaries to clients for whom we have acted throughout lengthy proceedings, we still have no idea what we can expect to be paid even though the changes come in within a matter of days. And what it hinges on is whether or not the ‘instructions’ were ‘received’ on or before 4 August 2009. What amounts to ‘instructions received’? A booking in a diary? For that is when counsel if professionally obligated and has to make her decision about whether or not to refuse work on the basis of inadequate fee. When counsel is retained as ‘counsel in the case’? When counsel is told at court ‘can you book yourself for that?’ Or when a solicitor rings or writes to instruct counsel and an entry is made in the diary? Or (as I rather suspect will be the case) only when the full instructions land upon ones desk. I have cases in my diary months ahead to which I am committed, and for which the fee will now very probably be significantly less than I expected when I was booked. Notwithstanding the longstanding nature of my instruction I will probably be paid under the new scheme. I would complain about the unpredictability of all of this, the impossibility of making sensible financial plans, and the total disregard for the impact of this on the individuals trying to make a living out of this work, but in reality it is all so very predictable.