The Law Society of Scotland has supported plans to remove the need for suspects to pay a contribution towards the cost of legal advice they receive while held in custody at police stations.
Regulations on legal aid are due to go before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee next month for consideration. The regulations remove the requirement for suspects who are questioned by the police to pay a contribution toward the cost of their legal advice.
Ian Moir, convener of the Law Society of Scotland Legal Aid Committee, said: “We are pleased to support these regulations. We have consistently maintained that contributions are not practical in police station advice cases.
“The new arrangements recognise the concerns raised by Lord Bonomy in his 2015 report - that requiring suspects to pay a contribution towards legal advice is likely to dissuade some suspects from taking up their right to legal advice. Ensuring access to justice is essential and removing contributions from police station advice cases should mean that every member of the public who needs the services of a solicitor whilst questioned in a police station is able to get free automatic legal assistance. It also removes the practical difficulties involved in trying to assess finances and collect contributions when the suspect will not have the relevant documentation to hand.
“However, these new regulations do nothing to address other fundamental difficulties with legal aid arrangements for police station work. The payment arrangements do not adequately remunerate solicitors. At present private practitioners provide a 24/7 service all year round. They do this to help clients and provide a societal benefit as the costs of providing this service clearly outweigh the low payment available. Also, the existing payment arrangements involve unnecessary bureaucracy and we believe the most efficient framework for providing suspects with free legal advice is through a system of block fees, automatically payable on completion of the work.
“We have submitted comments to the Justice Committee to outline our position on this issue. We will also work with the Scottish Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board during the implementation of the Criminal Justice Bill, which will further affect the delivery of advice and assistance in police stations.”
Note to editors
Following the decision in Cadder v HMA in 2010, legislation was passed to make legal assistance automatically available to suspects at the police station. This means a suspect is automatically entitled to legal advice, however he or she might still be required to pay a contribution and a means test is necessary.
The Scottish Government laid regulations removing the requirement for contributions for police station legal advice before the parliament on 16 December 2015.