Edinburgh solicitors vote to stop accepting another tranche of legal aid work

Members of the Edinburgh Bar Association (EBA) have voted to stop accepting court appointments in summary cases where accused persons are not permitted to carry out their own defence, saying the money offered for such work is inadequate.

EBA president Leanne McQuillan told The Herald: “If someone is charged in a domestic or sexual case they are not allowed to cross-examine witnesses so if they don’t get legal aid and are left unrepresented the court can appoint someone to represent them.

“Or in a case where the defendant has a really inappropriate position they want to put to a witness and you say you can’t follow those instructions, the court can appoint someone who is not obliged to take instructions.

“The court can appoint you but you will be paid on a different basis, with the rate reverting to those that were fixed in 1992 - £42.20 an hour. We have chosen this to make a point about because it’s the 1992 rate.”

A review of the legal aid regime earlier this year undertaken by Carnegie UK Trust chief executive Martyn Evans found no evidence to justify an increase in the fee rates, prompting severe criticism from the legal profession.

The Scottish government has been reviewing the report since March and is expected to produce a report soon.

Ms McQuillan said the EBA believes the government should disregard the report’s recommendations in their entirety.

“A lot of the review seems to be focused on theoretical ideas such as justice centres, but it’s all really vague and meaningless,” she said.

“A lot of his information about fees is incomplete and it beggars belief that the government spent so much money on a review that doesn’t look at the rates.

“What [Mr Evans] envisages is rubbing everything out and starting again but we don’t think there’s anything wrong with the system, it’s just completely underfunded.”

Ian Moir, convenor of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Legal Aid Committee said the report had “a number of useful recommendations that could improve the system” but that it also “completely misunderstood the need for urgent, proper funding of legal aid”.

“The funding is needed right now and it would avoid a situation in five to 10 years’ time where there’s no one coming into the system,” Mr Moir added.