Edinburgh bar to stage St Andrew’s day strike over underfunding of legal aid

The Edinburgh Bar Association is to strike on St Andrew’s Day next week, citing the failure of the Scottish government to take Scotland’s legal aid situation seriously.

On Monday 30 November, Edinburgh Sheriff Court will be open for custody business. Most staff will be paid an enhanced rate for working a public holiday, but defence agents will not receive any extra remuneration.

The lawyers said that, despite the three per cent increase in fees across the board announced in November 2018, previous cuts mean the fixed fee for a summary trial is lower than it was in 1999.

It is 21 years since that rate was fixed.

It said: “The problems faced by the profession have been growing for decades and have been exacerbated by the Covid 19 pandemic.  When lockdown was introduced in March this year, most of the business in the Sheriff Courts ground to a halt. Legal aid practitioners were required to cover urgent business, predominantly custody cases. Like many key workers, we put our health and safety at risk.”

It adds: “Throughout lockdown, there has been a huge reduction in the number of new cases being prosecuted. Consequentially, there has been a decrease in the number of applications for legal aid. This has resulted in a significant saving to the Scottish government in the legal aid budget.

“Given that other industries have received specific support to help them through lockdown, we cannot understand why similar consideration has not been given to the legal aid profession. This is particularly hard to fathom as money is readily available as a consequence of the reduction in legal aid spend.”

EBA said that the Scottish government had made a “vague promise” of an “unspecified new payment applicable to a relatively small number of solemn cases” and support for trainees “for whom the career prospects remain bleak after qualifiying”.

“It is a measure of the level of contempt with which we are treated that they do not even see fit to redistribute the saving in the existing legal aid budget to help us at a time of global pandemic. For these reasons, the members of the Edinburgh Bar Association have voted overwhelmingly not to attend court on Monday 30th November 2020.”

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