The Bribery Act, the abolition of expert immunity and recent cuts in the criminal justice system have all had an impact on the way forensic accountants work and how they advise their clients. These issues were the main topics of discussion at this week’s annual Forensic Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales.
The keynote address was given by Sir Peter Cresswell, arbitrator and mediator, who presented a concise summary of the principles which govern the conduct of expert witnesses. He went on to examine in more detail the arguments for and against the abolition of the immunity of expert witnesses from civil action, drawing out the competing arguments expounded in Jones v Kaney  UKSC 13 30.3.11.
The conference delegates were especially concerned about recent changes in the criminal defence sector, in particular by the changes to the rates payable to forensic accountants who act as expert witnesses for the defence in criminal trials. New hourly rates will apply to all work undertaken in cases which start (whether or not the Representation Order is granted) on or after 3 October 2011. The maximum rates are set out in The Criminal Defence Service (Funding) (Amendment) Order 2011. The hourly rate for an expert accountant will be capped at £144 (irrespective of whether London-based or otherwise). This higher rate is envisaged for a partner, with a manager entitled to a maximum of £108, an accountant £80 and general staff £50 per hour. Remuneration rates for travel time have been capped at £40 per hour and mileage rates at 45 pence per mile. The Legal Services Commission has some discretion to increase experts’ rates but only if it considers it reasonable to do so in exceptional circumstances.
This squeeze on fees for expert witnesses is not merely an economic issue: the conference expressed its concern that the principle of equality of arms between prosecution and defence may be eroded by the latest changes. The reality is that forensic accountants will suffer the pain currently being experienced by others in the criminal justice system. The new fee rates described above are designed to achieve a 10% saving in the costs of experts’ fees.
The morning ended with a typically robust and informative presentation by Andrew Mitchell QC, the doyen of confiscation lawyers, who focused on the latest developments in the legal scheme for regaining control of criminal assets, in which he expounded the virtues of using civil recovery.
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