Defence lawyers to boycott courts on Monday

Defence lawyers are to boycott courts on Monday due to a dispute with the Scottish government over legal aid funding.

The Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) said the profession was at breaking point.

It claims that less than a third of law firms who applied for the £9 million resilience fund were accepted and that only £2.3m has been paid out.

In a statement, the SSBA said: “We have witnessed a significant decline in the number of cases the courts have been able to process during lockdown. Our firms urgently need support to continue practising whilst the pandemic is ongoing.”

The statement added: “The Scottish government recognised this reality by assigning £9m to a resilience fund for practitioners. There has been a complete failure to properly distribute that fund to firms who desperately need it.”

A representative of a local faculty will deal with custodies on Monday at courts under boycott.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “Our priority remains to maintain and support the important role in the justice system of those delivering vital legal aid services in Scotland as we emerge from the pandemic.

“We are fully committed to providing support to the profession and are working as a matter of urgency to explore options for distributing unallocated funds from the budget set aside for the resilience fund.

“The Justice Secretary held talks with the Law Society yesterday, where he confirmed he is committed to ensuring more funds are made available. He is happy to engage with criminal bar associations and discussions with the profession are ongoing.”

President of the Law Society of Scotland, Amanda Millar, said: “The action being taken on Monday shows the widespread levels of anger and frustration throughout the criminal bar.

“Legal aid solicitors have felt disrespected and ignored by the Scottish government for years. When ministers announced a new £9 million legal aid support package last December in response to Covid, it was hoped this marked a change in attitude and a more positive approach. Yet five months on, most of the promised money remains in a Scottish government bank account as legal aid solicitors sit wondering if their firms will survive the week.

“We warned government that its harsh and rigid criteria for support grants would mean money would not reach those who desperately need it. Regrettably, this is exactly what has happened. It is why so many solicitors now feel they have no choice but to act to make the government change course and amend the way firms can get financial support. Ministers need to listen and act fast.”