Forty firms of solicitors, and 110 individual practitioners, have left the duty solicitor scheme since 2019, a freedom of information answer has disclosed.

The figures, obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, show that the number of firms involved dropped from 392 to 352 between 2019 and 2021, while solicitor numbers fell from 753 to 643. The decline reflects concerns repeatedly voiced by the solicitor profession that current legal aid fee levels are unsustainable, with practitioners focusing more on privately funded work or leaving for the prosecution service.

Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur, who represents Orkney, described the figures as "extremely concerning, especially for courts in the more remote parts of Scotland". 

He added: "The Government must finally reform legal aid funding to prevent a further haemorrhage of solicitors from the scheme and ensure everyone has access to legal support."

Scottish Government ministers point to 5% fee increases delivered last year and planned again for April 2022 – which the profession states will not even keep pace with the current level of inflation.