Talks planned over legal aid row

Lawyers outside glasgow Sheriff court during Tuesday's boycott
Image caption Lawyers boycotted the custody court at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Tuesday

Talks are to take place between the justice secretary and lawyers' representatives over planned changes to the criminal legal aid system.

The Law Society of Scotland said it had accepted an offer from Kenny MacAskill for a meeting next week.

Defence solicitors boycotted the custody courts at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paisley sheriff courts on Tuesday.

The changes would see accused people with a disposable income of more than £68 contribute to their defence costs.

Defence lawyers are also concerned about moves for solicitors to collect the money themselves, instead of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The Scottish government believes the changes outlined in the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill would cut Scotland's £98m annual criminal legal aid bill by £3.9m.

Mr MacAskill said he wanted to keep the dialogue channels open after the strike action, which he said was "in nobody's interests".

He said there had been instances where clients appeared in court unrepresented during the strike action, despite the availability of duty solicitors and public defence solicitors.

'Unworkable and unfair'

He added: "This government is concerned that this strike action has arisen while our proposals on criminal legal aid contributions are still under discussion.

"In recent discussion with the Law Society of Scotland, I offered to meet with bar associations to discuss and explain the current issues around criminal legal aid contributions and I am hopeful such a meeting can take place shortly.

"While the Law Society is traditionally the negotiating body for the profession, I want to ensure that there is also the opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with the bar associations themselves about the reasons for the bill, why we are having to make these changes, and the bill's progression through parliament.

"The strike action that has so far occurred is in nobody's interests."

Following a meeting on Thursday evening between representatives from law faculties and bar associations, the Law Society of Scotland reiterated its position that the planned changes were "regressive, unworkable and unfair" but said the requested discussions with Mr MacAskill would happen.

The body said the £68 threshold would mean people were forced to pay towards the costs of their defence "when they simply cannot afford to so".

It also said the proposed system, which would see solicitors collecting in summary cases, was "impractical" and the Scottish Legal Aid Board was the body best equipped to collect contributions in all summary and solemn cases.

A statement said: "The Law Society has now agreed to organise a meeting between the faculties and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice so these concerns can be discussed in detail.

"The meeting is likely to take place early next week."

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