Sheriff courts are halted by lawyers’ legal aid protest

MSP Iain Gray with campaign postcards
MSP Iain Gray with campaign postcards
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The Capital’s sheriff court has been brought to a standstill after lawyers refused to appear for clients in protest at changes to legal aid payments.

A fourth day of action was staged yesterday, with lawyers refusing to appear for new clients in custody courts. The move affected Edinburgh, Haddington and Livingston sheriff courts.

In Edinburgh, more than 44 new custody cases were affected as the Public Defence Solicitors Office made its way through cases, while other defendants chose to represent themselves.

Solicitors are angry about Scottish Government proposals that would see people with disposable income of £68 or more make contributions to defence costs, which has been dubbed a “senseless attack on the working poor”.

They also oppose plans to make law firms responsible for collecting these contributions.

Chairman of the Edinburgh Bar Association Cameron Tait said: “The Law Society and bar associations have raised concerns with the Government in relation to the introduction of these contributions.

“We believe it will be an attack on access to justice. It will lead to an increase in the number of people representing themselves.”

Protesters also object to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s refusal to discuss alternatives for collection.

Mr Tait added: “The Government want solicitors to collect the contributions from their clients, which poses an obvious conflict of interest, as the fee is supposed to be collected before the case has been dealt with.
If the contribution is not paid, we are supposed to pursue them when the case is still ongoing, and if contributions are not paid cases will need to be adjourned or postponed.”

Mr Tait added until the justice minister was willing to discuss “sensible alternatives”, the association would have no choice but to consider forms of industrial action.

Last week, all criminal practitioners in Edinburgh resigned from the Scottish Legal Aid Board Police Station Duty Scheme, which relies on solicitors to be available to provide legal advice to an accused before and during police interviews.

A Scottish Court Service spokesman said: “Those have who have requested to meet with a solicitor have had the opportunity to do so. Some, after having taken legal advice who have declined to meet with a solicitor, have appeared unrepresented in court to ask for their case to be continued.”

Petitioners say no to closure plan

LAWYERS, traders, politicians and campaigners have united in a final push to stop Haddington Sheriff Court closing.

They staged a rally outside the court and handed hundreds of campaign postcards to East Lothian MSP, Iain Gray, who said: “The public’s support has made it absolutely clear that closing the court would be bad for local people, local justice and the local economy.”