An appeal for special measures to help legal aid lawyers as court business is curtailed has been made by the Law Society of Scotland.
With all jury trials and most summary criminal trials postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Society has asked the Scottish Legal Aid Board to look urgently at additional steps to improve cashflow and support businesses.
- a reduction in average payment times towards the Scottish Government commitment of 10 days for payments to small to medium sized businesses;
- payment direct by SLAB of outlays, or the ability to claim immediate interim payment;
- interim payment of fees in the event of postponement because of COVID-19;
- using grant-funding powers under the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 to provide payments to solicitors during this reduction in business;
- any other steps that can be taken within the scope of the current legislation, or with prompt regulatory change, to support firms at this stage.
The Society has also written to the Minister for Community Safety, asking for support in securing these steps, particularly where regulations might be required to allow these changes to be made.
These measures would be in addition to any other Scottish Government support for businesses, details of which have to be announced.
In a message to members, Society President John Mulholland, himself a criminal defence solicitor, wrote: "The health and safety of all of us as practitioners, of our clients and the public is paramount. The Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service announced significant changes to business this morning, criminal, civil, tribunal and OPG. The effect of these changes will be profound, for us as businesses, as employers with a duty of care to our staff, as employers and for the services that we provide to the public, particularly at a stage that people may be most in need of legal help."
He concluded: "We are acutely aware of the gravity of these changes and how they will affect us all and will do everything that we can to support you all through the days and weeks ahead."