Solicitors from across Scotland  reaffirmed their concerns over government plans to introduce contributions in criminal legal aid, describing the proposals as ‘regressive, unworkable, unfair and a risk to our system of justice’ at a meeting held in Edinburgh last night.

The Law Society of Scotland had organised a meeting of representatives from law faculties and bar associations from across Scotland,  following a series of announcements by solicitors in favour of direct action in protest against elements of the Scottish Civil Justice and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament.

The solicitors reaffirmed their principal concerns over the legislation, namely that the proposals are:-

Regressive – The current threshold of £68 disposable income per week will mean people will be forced to pay towards the costs of their defence when they simply cannot afford to so.

Unworkable – The proposed mixed collection system which would leave solicitors collecting in summary cases is impractical and unworkable. The Scottish Legal Aid Board is the body best equipped to collect contributions in all summary and solemn cases.

Unfair – In many cases, those who plead not guilty will have to pay a far greater contribution than they would with a guilty plea – as much as double the contribution – leading to a perverse incentive for those who cannot afford to pay the higher cost.

The Law Society has now agreed to organise a meeting between the faculties and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice so these concerns can be discussed in detail. The meeting is likely to take place early next week.

President of the Law Society, Austin Lafferty said: “Solicitors want a legal aid system that protects society’s most vulnerable, not one that forces some of the poorest in our society to pay sums they cannot afford. They want a system that is fair, not one that encourages the innocent poor to plead guilty in order to pay less. They also want a system that is workable, not one that forces lawyers to become unpaid debt collectors for the government.

“Solicitors fear the Scottish Government’s proposals are regressive, unworkable, unfair and risk undermining these fundamental principles. As the people who work at the coal face of our justice system, they should be listened to.

“The justice system cannot be immune from the need to save money from the public purse, we know that. That is why solicitors have accepted a series of reforms over recent years which were designed to make our justice system more efficient and save money, including significant cuts to solicitor fees. But there comes a point when proposals go too far or go in the wrong direction.

“There is still time for Ministers to think again before the Scottish Parliament gives final consideration to the Bill. We plan to use that time to press our case for a legal aid system that is fair and protects the most vulnerable in our society.”

The Justice Minister sent a letter to the Law Society of Scotland on 21 November 2012 following an initial meeting to discuss the changes to the Legal Aid system which you can read here.