Lawyers stage court boycott in legal aid row

Glasgow Sheriff Court Solicitors in Glasgow have refused to take on new work at the city's Sheriff Court

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Lawyers in Scotland's two largest cities are boycotting custody courts over proposed changes to legal aid.

Solicitors in Edinburgh have refused, for the second time in seven days, to represent clients who had been arrested for alleged offences.

They were joined by counterparts from Glasgow and Paisley Sheriff Courts who also refused to take new work on.

The lawyers believe proposed changes to legal aid could undermine the rights of accused people to a fair trial.

Scotland's criminal legal aid bill was £98m last year and the Scottish government believes its reforms would cut that by £3.9m.

Financial contributions

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has put forward plans to increase the number of people making a financial contribution to their legal aid.

For the accused in criminal cases, they would be asked to contribute to legal aid if they have a weekly disposable income above £68.

Start Quote

The profession feels that it must display the strength of feeling across the country by staging this further protest action”

End Quote Cameron Tait Edinburgh Bar Association

The proposal also asks lawyers to begin collecting the money from clients.

Defence solicitors have said the proposals are unworkable and will create the possibility that innocent people will plead guilty because they cannot afford to go to trial.

After the first round of industrial action last week, Mr MacAskill said he was willing to listen to concerns raised by defence solicitors.

The President of the Edinburgh Bar Association, the organisation which represents defence lawyers, said the action had the full backing of the Law Society of Scotland.

'Constructive dialogue'

Solicitor advocate Cameron Tait said: "The profession struggles to understand why the government is intent on driving through badly thought out changes in the face of concerns not just from solicitors but academics and charities.

"Last week the justice secretary gave the media the impression the government was involved in meaningful talks to resolve the situation but that approach couldn't be further from the truth.

"His approach means this relationship could be damaged irreparably. In these circumstances the profession feels that it must display the strength of feeling across the country by staging this further protest action."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government was given no prior notice of today's strike. We are deeply concerned that clients are choosing to appear unrepresented in court while their solicitor is on strike, even though the services of a duty solicitor provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board are available to them, as this choice is unlikely to be in their best interests.

"We want to continue constructive dialogue between all parties including the Law Society of Scotland as strike action is in nobody's interests."

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