The Law Society of Scotland and the Society of Solicitor Advocates are consulting on proposals to recommend solicitor advocates for legal aid remuneration as "senior"

The Law Society of Scotland and the Society of Solicitor Advocates have embarked on a three month consultation on proposals to recommend solicitor advocates as suitable for remuneration as “senior” in criminal legal aid cases. These proposals were necessary once it became clear that the current situation where solicitor advocates are paid according to whether sanction has been granted by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) for the employment of “senior counsel” will not continue.

The starting position of both Societies in discussions with SLAB and the Scottish Government was to allow the status quo to continue, on the basis that it created no real problems and allowed fair payment in our most serious cases. This was not acceptable. Alternatively they suggested that payment should be made according to the gravity of the case, as the same work and responsibility will follow, regardless of who conducts it. This was also unacceptable as a sole criterion.

Currently only one solicitor advocate QC has been recognised on the defence side. Both the government and SLAB have been alive to the Societies’ comments in this area. Both are keen to ensure that no change is made which restricts choice or availability for an accused person.

It is important to recognise the precise purpose and limits of the proposals. This is about ensuring there is some independent element available to check that payments from public funds are being appropriately made, not an attempt to create an alternative QC structure. The proposals on which the Societies are consulting suggest the creation of a list of solicitor advocates who have been recommended as suitable for remuneration as senior in criminal legal aid cases.

The standard to be achieved for this recommendation is that of a solicitor advocate who, by their practice, experience, expertise and legal ability has demonstrated that they are of high standard as an advocate in the High Court of Justiciary, whether sitting as a court of first instance or as a court of appeal. It is also essential that there is nothing in the conduct, affairs or circumstances of an applicant that would make his or her recognition inappropriate.

The detailed proposals are posted on both Societies’ websites and are being sent out to all solicitor advocates by post. Meetings will take place in Edinburgh and in Glasgow at which the proposals will be discussed. The consultation period runs until the end of June. Further details can be obtained from Stuart Drummond, Law Reform Officer, The Law Society of Scotland.

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