Glasgow Bar Association members will not attend holiday custody courts, except as duty solicitors, in a protest against the "chronic underfunding" of legal aid solicitors.
The move, which coincides with the Glasgow September holiday weekend, was announced in a letter from GBA President Fiona McKinnon to Justice Secretary Keith Brown and Minister for Community Safety Ash Denham.
With some recent public holidays, GBA office bearers have been the only defence representatives at custody courts, as members took a stand against low rates of legal aid fees, and courts have run well into the evening. This weekend's letter explains that last spring, the Lord President, Lord Carloway, confirmed that custody courts would be convened on each court holiday, but "There was no consultation with the defence. There was no thought given to providing an enhanced remuneration package for defence agents to relinquish their entitlement to such holidays."
The letter requests – as a matter of freedom of information – details of the remuneration paid to all others involved in the running of the courts in comparison with their standard daily rates.
It goes on to point out the many recent meetings in which the "chronic underfunding" of the defence sector has been highlighted, and the GBA's "immediate and urgent concern about the prospects of an independent bar unless this terminal decline is reversed as quickly as possible". Despite that, and the recent action taken at public holidays, the Government's legislative programme contains no prospect of reform until next autumn at the earliest.
Having taken a poll of members, "Such is the strength of feeling about this matter that all of those who responded are in favour of this course of action." Further, "Insult has been added to injury" by the underspend in the legal aid budget during the pandemic, the failed implementation of the Government's resilience fund, and the funds announced being dwarfed by the payouts arising from the failed prosecutions relating to Rangers FC.
The letter affirms: "We are simply seeking pay parity with our colleagues in the justice partnership on this issue. Until this is resolved, our members will not be participating in any holiday custody courts, unless in their capacity as duty solicitor or to fulfil their contractual obligations as PDSO employees. We would invite all defence practitioners across Scotland to join with us about this issue."
As a result, any accused who has nominated a specific solicitor will have to represent themselves when they appear from custody.
To date, support has been expressed by the Scottish Solicitors' Bar Association, along with the Aberdeen Bar Association, Edinburgh Bar Association, and local faculties in Banff, Peterhead, West Lothian and Scottish Borders.
The full letter can be found at this link.