News In Focus
Society briefs MSPs on legal aid amendments
23 January 2013
A briefing on improvements to the bill changing the summary criminal legal aid regime while restating opposition to solicitors collecting contributions, has been sent by the Law Society of Scotland to all MSPs.
The move comes ahead of stage 3 of the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill, next Tuesday (29 January), and in the midst of ongoing controversy over whether the Society was right to confirm its acceptance of a package negotiated with the Government, following consultations with its members.
In the briefing (click here to view) the Society welcomes the Government's moves to increase the disposable income limit at which contributions would begin to be payable, to discount certain benefits in calculating disposable income, and to retain free legal advice and assistance in relation to police station interviews, and assistance for clients on remand or in custody. It also undertakes to continue to work with the Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board on the detail of the contribution levels from those still liable to pay contributions.
On collection of contributions, the Society restates its position that there should be a central collection system and that it is "fundamentally opposed" to solicitors having to collect contributions direct from clients, but welcomes a propsed amendment to require SLAB to provide a collection service at a charge to the solicitor.
Also today, Oliver Adair, the Society’s solicitor lead on criminal legal aid, has replied to an editor's blog on Journal Online criticising the decision to accept the package in the face of opposition from a majority of faculties and bar associations consulted on the deal. He maintains that the public interest as well as the interests of solicitors were served by doing so, and that it would have been a capitulation to reject, rather than to accept the package, as with stage 3 imminent, "Rejecting the proposed package would necessarily have meant conceding defeat on the bill’s passage through Parliament."
The Society has mounted a robust defence of its stance through various media, in the face of sustained criticism from defence solicitors.
Click here for the blog, and here for Oliver Adair's reply.