COP26 court plans in chaos as solitiors refuse to sign up
Plans to deal with an expected wave of arrests relating to COP26 protests have been thrown into chaos after bar associations refused to sign up to a proposed duty solicitor scheme amid an ongoing row over Legal Aid cuts.
Scottish Government contingency plans to deal with COP26 arrests include duty solicitors and weekend custody courts at Glasgow, and Saturday courts in Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
However in a statement made on Monday, the Edinburgh Bar Association accused the government of “decimating” the criminal bar as they claim lack of staff, lack of engagement and consistent cuts to Legal Aid made their job harder than ever.
The statement said: “Today, 13 days from the beginning of the conference there is still an ongoing lack of clarity as to the practicalities of the running of the courts to process these anticipated arrests.
We find this absolutely stunning given the originally planned dates for the conference.
"We have engaged for weeks now with representatives of the Scottish Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board who have proposed what might seem an attractive feeing system bespoke to COP26 business to ensure our cooperation. Notwithstanding this, we are disappointed to note that in spite of our Association having withdrawn from the Police Station Duty scheme in 2017, it was still expected that we would accede to assisting with this for the duration of COP26. At no time did we express any willingness or intention to do so.
"This leaves us positing why matters pertaining to a conference of this nature can justify such apparent generosity while we are told at every opportunity that there is no justification for this in order to keep the everyday functioning of the courts in order at all times.
“In light of this, and in light of the fundamental lack of capacity of our members to take on such anticipated volumes of work, our members have as an association voted not to engage with the proposed COP26 duty solicitor scheme.
"We cannot in any good conscience do so at a time whereby we are stretched beyond capacity on a daily basis and retain professional obligations which must be upheld.”
The EBA is not alone in protesting the expectation placed on solicitors during COP26 with the Glasgow Bar Association taking a similar stance.
On Monday, they sent a letter to the Scottish Government opting out of the plans, again pointing to lack of engagement and staff pressure.
They wrote saying: “Our members have voted to opt out of the COP26 Duty Plan and to decline to attend to represent our clients for their weekend custody appearances.
"Legal Aid practitioners are under pressure as they have been at no time before in living memory.
"We have fewer practitioners undertaking more work.
"There is no scope to take on more business, particularly when we are given less than two weeks’ notice of your proposals, the proposals are incomplete and not all practitioners received your proposals.”
COP26 will be running from October 31 to November 12 and is expected to see thousands of delegates and heads of state arrive in Glasgow to discuss the climate crisis.
The Scottish Government was contacted for comment.