'Legal Aid Board should collect all contributions not
solicitors', says Law Society
The Law Society has contacted all Members of the Scottish
Parliament and predicted that legislation introducing a system of
collection in criminal legal aid is likely to cause a series of
difficulties and reiterated its view that the Scottish Legal Aid
Board (SLAB) should collect in all cases where a contribution is
The Society issued its detailed written briefing to MSPs ahead
of the final parliamentary debate on the legislation which will
introduce contributions in criminal legal aid. The Scottish
Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance (Scotland) Bill
will be considered by the Scottish Parliament for the last time on
Tuesday 29 January.
The Society stressed that it was supportive of the principle of
contributions and had agreed to a number of specific amendments to
improve the legislation but highlighted a number of outstanding
issues, particularly on the responsibility for collecting
contributions where solicitors will be expected to collect in most
Convener of the Law Society's criminal legal aid negotiating
team, Ian Moir said: "We believe, have always believed and continue
to argue that the Scottish Legal Aid Board should collect all
contributions where they will be owed. Such a burden should
not fall on individual solicitors.
"SLAB is by far and away the body best equipped to collect in
criminal legal aid, just as it does in civil cases. The
Cabinet Secretary has repeatedly told us that the principle of
collection was non-negotiable. We do not believe the Scottish
Government has presented a compelling case for solicitors
collecting contributions and, as such, we remain fundamentally
opposed to this part of the Bill. We hope these views will be
aired during the debate in the Scottish Parliament next week."
The Society has agreed to a number of amendments aimed at
improving the Bill and additional regulations, including;
- An increase in the disposable income threshold at which someone
would be expected to pay a contribution, from £68 per week to £83
per week, reducing the numbers eligible for making a contribution
- A guarantee that such a change would not be paid for through
cuts to solicitor fees
- The removal of certain benefits from income calculations such
as disability living allowance and war pensions
- The removal of police station advice and cases involving remand
or custodial sentences from the contributions system.
Ian Moir added: "Thanks to the package of improvements which we
negotiated, some of the poorest will be taken out of having to make
a contribution altogether, including many disabled people and war
veterans. That package also means solicitors will have to
collect contributions in far fewer cases. In fact, some of
the cases where it would have been virtually impossible to collect
the contribution have been removed from the collection system
"Even with these improvements, the legislation is likely to
create a number of practical difficulties, particularly with
solicitors being forced to collect contributions. This is not
the Bill we would have ideally wanted and there is no doubt that we
will have to revisit these issues in future."
23 JANUARY 2013
Read the Law Society's stage three
briefing on the Bill.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Suzy
Powell on 0131 476 8115 or Kevin Lang on 0131 476 8167.
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23 January 2013