9am briefing: solicitor strike | New Edinburgh flights |

Virgin boss Richard Branson. Picture: Getty
Virgin boss Richard Branson. Picture: Getty
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EDINBURGH’S defence solicitors are holding a one-day protest action today by boycotting the custody courts at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

The action will have a major effect on the work of the court.

Defence solicitors felt compelled to act after the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) refused to heed their fears over a new bill that will further damage a profession that has had to absorb a series of crippling cuts in recent years.

Earlier this month, the Edinburgh Bar Association voted unanimously to take action in principle if the Government pressed ahead with the bill. Since then, similar votes have been taken by defence solicitors in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Perth and Dumfries, so further protests could follow if the Government does not enter into meaningful negotiations.

The profession felt badly let down last week by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, which had previously expressed sympathy and produced a report asking the Government to reconsider, but performed a u-turn by failing to support amendments that addressed its concerns.

Letters will be given to all accused affected by the action today, and to friends and relatives who turn up to support them in court. They will explain why their solicitors are not available to represent them today, while stressing that they are trying to maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system by standing up for the rights of independent defence solicitors, and those they represent.

A letter will be sent to G4S, the security firm that delivers accused parties to the court from custody, to explain the reasons for the action and to apologise for the inconvenience that will be caused.

Defence solicitors fear the changes contained in the new bill will prove disastrous for those accused of crime, and for the profession.

Contributions to their defence will be demanded from anyone with disposable income of £68 a week, or savings of £750, and they could be liable for the entire cost of their defence, almost £500, in a summary case.

Virgin set to launch new flights from Edinburgh Airport

Sir Richard Branson’s airline Virgin Atlantic is poised to begin new domestic services from Edinburgh to Heathrow.

Virgin said today it had been offered short-haul take-off and landing slots available following the takeover of bmi by British Airways’s parent company IAG.

Virgin plans to begin services on March 31 next year and will primarily focus on multiple daily flights between Heathrow and Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The new routes will see Virgin compete with long-time rival British Airways.

Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said: “We’re focused on providing Scotland with choice both in terms of routes and carriers whilst extending its reach across the world.

“This new regular service does exactly that, opening up a new set of onward destinations for our passengers”.

Alex Salmond backs Sandy Jardine to battle back from illness

FIRST Minister Alex Salmond has hailed Sandy Jardine’s “battling spirit” in his fight against cancer.

The 63-year-old former Rangers player remains in hospital after having a tumour removed from his liver on Friday.

Jardine,63, made over 500 Rangers appearances and later played for and managed Hearts. He also won 38 Scotland caps.

Mr Salmond said: “Sandy was a tenacious character on the pitch and I am sure he will bring that same battling spirit to fighting his illness”.

In a statement issued on behalf of the star, he said: “I would like to thank everyone for their best wishes and kind support.This is a difficult time for me and my family and I ask that you respect our privacy.”

Rangers say they will support Jardine and his family throughout his treatment.

Blood testing centre given green light

A new national centre for testing donated blood has been given the green light.

The new centre, to be built at Heriot Watt Research Park near Edinburgh, will centralise the testing and processing of blood and tissue donations.

The Scottish Government has approved the outline business case for the £36.4 million centre for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS).

Director Mary Morgan said the purpose-built facility would also allow them to pursue work to discover new technologies which could “transform patients’ lives in the years ahead”.

As well as blood, the new centre will test other donated tissues - such as skin, bone and heart valves - helping ensure the future supply of these for patients across Scotland.

It is due to be completed in 2017 and is part of more than £32 billion being invested in improving NHS facilities over the next three years.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Having the right facilities in the right place is important to people across Scotland and that is why we are determined to ensure our blood service is delivered from state-of-the-art facilities.