MSPs pass legal reform legislation

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MSPs voted to pass the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill, despite opposition parties voting against the legislation, following the second part of its final debate on 29 January 2013.

The legislation will establish the Scottish Civil Justice Council and make provision about contributions in respect of criminal legal assistance

Some Scottish lawyers opposed the planned government changes to the criminal legal aid system.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told the chamber: "The passing of this Bill will deliver vital savings to ensure legal aid can be targeted at those who need it most.

"It will also begin our journey towards much needed civil justice reform."

Earlier the parliament voted for an amendment raising the threshold at which accused people contribute to defence costs to a disposable income of more than £82 a week.

Mr MacAskill told MSPs: "I have listened closely to views expressed throughout the Bill's passage to make sure we continue to protect the most vulnerable in our society, building on initial proposals to exempt those on 'passported' benefits and our graduated approach to contribution rates."

He went on to add: "My proposal to raise the disposable income thresholds means the estimated number of those liable to pay contributions has now fallen by one third compared to the original proposals."

Scottish Labour's justice spokesperson Lewis MacDonald said the legislation was "not fit for purpose" and said raising the threshold to £82 did not answer the "question of affordability all together".

Mr Macdonald added it was surely a matter of regret the government's approach had "divided the legal profession".

The former leader of the Scottish Conservative party Annabel Goldie called the bill a "dog's breakfast" and that its second part dealing with legal assistance was "unworkable betraying the most vulnerable".

Alison McInnes, speaking for the Liberal Democrats, said her party would oppose the bill too saying even with the higher threshold it would remove "legal aid from a large chunk of working people".

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