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Legal aid cuts having "major effect" on extradition cases, Faculty claims

1 October 2014

Legal aid cuts in Scotland are having a "major effect" in extradition cases, the Faculty of Advocates claimed today.

In a submission to the House of Lords select committee reviewing extradition law, the Faculty said that people facing extradition were being represented in court by lawyers who were "unskilled and inexperienced" in the field. It commented: "We are of the view that the major reduction in the availability of legal aid at both sheriff court and appeal level in Scotland has had a major effect on the provision of specialist legal advice and representation to requested persons."

The advocates stated that while they did not have any statistical evidence on the point, they were "aware" that the reduction in the number of cases where legal aid is made available for representation by counsel at first instance had resulted in cases being prepared and presented in the sheriff court by inexperienced agents.

They added: "We are also aware of legal aid being refused in appeal cases where experienced counsel are satisfied that there is a readily statable argument to be made – on occasion an argument which was not raised at first instance."

Regarding the law itself, Faculty believes "it is generally the case that the UK’s present extradition law provides just outcomes in outward extradition cases brought before the courts in Scotland... in particular, the “step-by-step” procedure set out in both parts 1 and 2 of the Extradition Act 2003 facilitates explanation of the court process to potential extraditees and provides a useful framework for practitioners in the more
factually complex cases".

The introduction of the European arrest warrant had, on balance, improved extradition arrangements between EU member states, the Faculty suggested, by providing a standardised procedure which expedited the determination of individual cases.

Further, the existing statutory bars, including the human rights bar, provided sufficient protection for requested people – but Faculty expressed concerns over the presumption that all signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights will act in accordance with their obligations: "The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights amply demonstrates that this has not always been the case. We consider that the domestic courts should be more circumspect", the submission comtinues.

Faculty added that there were too few cases involving the United States, where the arrangements have been criticised as weighted in favour of the USA, for it to identify evidence to support that argument, and it could not reach a view as to whether the arrangements were comparable with other territories.

Click here to view the full response. 

Click here for the response from the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

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