News In Focus
GBA tells of "indignation and incredulity" at 3% legal aid rise
"Indignation and incredulity" is the reaction of Glasgow court lawyers to the 3% rise in legal aid fees proposed by the Scottish Government, according to an open letter from the Glasgow Bar Association to Ash Denham, the minister in charge of legal aid.
The across-the-board increase, to come into effect from 1 April 2019, was announced by the Government in November as part of its response to the independent review of legal aid under Martyn Evans. That review failed to find a case for an immediate rise in legal aid fees, a conclusion much criticised by lawyers who have seen many fees at a standstill for years, but called for a further "evidence-led" review, binding on the Government and the profession. The Government is now offering to work with the profession on a new body to propose legal aid rates, with the 3% rise as a means to preserve the position of legal aid lawyers meantime.
However the GBA is equally incredulous at the minister's assertion that the SNP Government “values the professionals who undertake legal aid work”, commenting: "We simply do not see that assertion translating into action."
It assures Ms Denham that it is not "crying wolf" over its members' morale being at its lowest in recent times, and with them not feeling valued either by the Government or the public, with few attractions for new lawyers to go into legal aid work – even though "our members and support staff provide a crucial public service to those who require it most within society".
The letter further protests at the Scottish Legal Aid Board issuing annual tables of the highest paid legal aid advocates and solicitor firms, which must "fuel the image of the fat cat lawyer" – while pointing out that SLAB's chief executive probably earns more than all but two solicitor advocates in the tables.
Pointing out that there are many NHS dentists, for example, who earn more than some advocates who feature in the lists, never mind what legal aid solicitors earn, the letter continues: "All we are looking for is to be treated as fairly as the other publicly funded professions in Scotland. And we have no doubt that the resources are there to enable that to happen, by means of annual reviews rather than a modest one off increase every decade or so.
"The Board’s insistence on an 'evidence' based process of review is misconceived; the evidence is there in the form of the Government’s own inflation and cost of living figures and the sums it pays other professionals and civil servants."
And it concludes by calling for parity of treatment with the prosecution service, which recently received a big injection of funding to help it deal with the number of sexual offence cases, despite the decline in the number of prosecutions overall: "our response to the concerns of the Crown as to the complexity of cases is that those cases are equally as complex to defence practitioners".
Click here to view the letter.