Law faculties give verdict on legal aid changes
Solicitors across Scotland have given differing verdicts on the Scottish Government's latest proposals for criminal legal aid contributions with most faculties rejecting the package of changes.
Faculties and bar associations had been asked to consider an amended set of proposals which had been negotiated by the Law Society, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
12 faculties have so far responded directly to the Society. Six voted against the package - Banff, Dumbarton, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth - with six expressing support for the package - Falkirk, Hamilton, Highlands, Kilmarnock, Stirling and West Lothian. Whilst the Society has not heard directly from these faculties, it is understood that Aberdeen, Dumfries, Dundee, Alloa, Kirkcaldy and Paisley also rejected the package with Ayr accepting.
Commenting, President of the Law Society, Austin Lafferty said: "Whilst the latest proposals do not address all of our concerns, a number of local faculties did vote to accept the Scottish Government's latest proposals and felt it was likely the best deal available. However, it is clear that many solicitors still feel unable to support the revised system of criminal legal aid contributions. We need to respect those differing viewpoints.
"Our aim throughout has been to maintain a legal aid system that is fair, workable and protects the most vulnerable in our society. The revised set of proposals include an increase to the threshold at which someone would be expected to pay a contribution and respond to some of the issues we identified around collection. Whilst this package does not resolve all of our concerns, it proposes a fairer system than was originally put forward by ministers. As such, we will support amendments to the legislation and other regulations that deliver these material improvements.
"This whole issue has been debated for many months now. There are clearly points of difference between the government and key elements of the solicitor profession, differences which are unlikely to be resolved. In particular, we still believe that the Scottish Legal Aid Board and not solicitors should be collecting all contributions in criminal legal aid.
"The final debate on the Bill is planned for the next two weeks and it is for the Scottish Parliament to decide the final form of the legislation. We still expect a number of practical difficulties to arise from the Bill if passed, challenges which will show how the Society was right to have raised such serious concerns over the course of the last year.
"The Society will monitor the effectiveness of the new system and will not hesitate to seek further changes if necessary."
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115 or Kevin Lang on 0131 476 8167.
18 January 2013