News In Focus
SYLA adds voice to legal aid concerns
28 September 2012
Traineeships and newly qualified solicitor positions could be put at risk by the Scottish Government's proposals for summary criminal legal aid, according to the Scottish Young Lawyers' Association.
Ministers propose that a person with £68 disposable weekly income should contribute towards their legal representation and that in summary matters, solicitors would be directly responsible for collecting the legal aid contributions from their clients. At hearings before Holyrood's Justice Committee this month, a range of individuals and organisations expressed concerns at the plans.
In a newly issued statement the SYLA says it shares the concerns that this will have a detrimental impact on access to justice. It comments: "The SYLA agrees with the principle that financial contributions to legal representation should be made by those who can afford to do so. However the SYLA believes that the current threshold for contributions is set too low, thereby restricting access to justice.
"The SYLA also has concerns about the proposals that collection of legal aid contributions in summary matters will rest with solicitors. Most criminal defence solicitors’ offices do not have the resources or collection mechanisms to implement the proposed system; there are no proposed powers of financial recovery, nor is there a proposed pilot scheme. In the instances where the financial contributions are not made by the client, the solicitors will themselves bear the burden of unpaid fees. This also risks delay in court procedures and a deterioration of the solicitor-client relationship."
Explaining its concerns over the implications fior young lawyers, it adds: "The SYLA is particularly concerned that these changes will lead to further reductions in traineeships and NQ positions with criminal firms, as the bill will effectively act as further cuts in legal aid."