The dispute between defence solicitors in Edinburgh and Glasgow and the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service remained unresolved this morning after different accounts from each side over the removal of a solicitor from Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Saturday.
Yesterday, members of the Edinburgh Bar Association, supported in solidarity by the Glasgow Bar Association, refused to conduct business in court pending an explanation of why the solicitor, who had been advising a client about representing themselves in the weekend court, was told to leave by police officers. (Click here for report.)
Later in the day, SCTS posted an open letter in the name of David Fraser, executive director of Court Operations, stating that the removal followed SCTS staff "being advised that the solicitor was within the cell area advising prisoners, who were not his clients, by discouraging them from using the duty solicitor. Contrary to social media reports, the solicitor was not in consultation with a nominated client when asked to leave the court building and we understand had no further advice, instructions or nominated client representation to undertake that day. The court had facilitated his consultation with his client".
PDSO, the designated duty solicitors for the day, were allowed to remain in the building until the court concluded.
The letter added: "There has been no interference from SCTS or officers of Police Scotland preventing solicitors from taking instructions, providing advice or representing their clients. SCTS is happy to give reassurance to all EBA members that the court will not only facilitate defence solicitors providing advice to clients in the court cells, but welcomes the assistance this brings to the criminal justice system."
In response, EBA President Neil Martin wrote that the SCTS letter "causes more concerns than it provides answers". He insisted that the solicitor "was advising accused persons of their rights, including their right to represent themselves, and providing leaflets explaining why their nominated solicitor was not present. He was doing so on our behalf, as has been done on any occasion when we have taken action in respect of custody courts, including by myself on a previous occasion. No issue was taken with this then. Indeed, our representative was there providing advice on behalf of those nominated solicitors who were not attending. This clearly fits within the parameters of your noted access permission".
It was "erroneous" to suggest that there was any dissuasion from using the duty solicitor, and one of the duty solicitors had expressed gratitude for the information being provided.
Mr Martin also wanted to know why no investigation was made at the time, nor any allegation put to the solicitor concerned. "As is clear from the public outcry at this incident, the ramifications of this are incredibly alarming."
He added: "During the pandemic we as an association, and all of our members have gone to great lengths to assist SCTS in any way we can. The way this assistance is being repaid is beyond disappointing."
At the time of writing, disruption to criminal business continues at Edinburgh and Glasgow Sheriff Courts today. The Glasgow Bar Association has appealed to agents from outside the cities with business at the courts, to "support the important and principled stand being taken about access to an independent solicitor of choice".