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Solicitors claim legal aid system at "breaking point" over duty scheme

10 January 2018

Scotland's criminal legal aid system is at "breaking point" over the new law regarding questioning of suspects at a police station, defence solicitors are claiming.

The Herald reports today that solicitors in Aberdeen, Borders, Dunbartonshire, Falkirk and Moray have followed the decision taken before Christmas by the Edinburgh Bar Association (click here for report) to withdraw from the police station duty solicitor scheme when new legislation comes into force on 25 January. The Glasgow Bar Association is due to take a decision shortly, as are solicitors in Dundee, Livingston and Dumfriesshire.

Under part 1 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016, in place of the current provisions allowing police to detain a suspect for up to six hours for questioning, police will be allowed to hold someone for questioning under arrest for up to 12 hours. Everyone being questioned has the right to legal advice, whatever the offence and whether or not they have been charged.

Solicitors claim the new rules will result in the same lawyers being phoned or called out through the night while also being expected to carry out a normal day's work, because legal aid rates that have not been increased since the 1990s mean they cannot attract staff to cover separate shifts. It is claimed that on a trial run last month one Edinburgh solicitor had to take 17 calls between 9pm and 6am.

Without private practice solicitors to operate the scheme, the Scottish Legal Aid Board would have to try and take on enough additional solicitors in the Public Defence Solicitors Office to do so.

Although the Board has offered a new payment structure for the new rules coming in, solicitors claim the problem is a wider one of lack of numbers in the profession to operate the system. For years it had been hard to attract new solicitors into criminal work, nor have many defence firms had the resources to employ them, because of low legal aid rates.

The independent review of legal aid being carried out by Martyn Evans is due to report in the spring. 


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