John Scott QC warns court system is heading for crisis



John Scott QC

A QC has said he would not longer recommend a career in criminal law to young people entering the legal profession as the court system is heading towards a crisis.

A lack of trainee criminal lawyers has led to fears over the future provision and quality of criminal lawyers also adds to his misgivings.

John Scott QC told The Times: “There is no area of law more important than criminal law. However, I regret the fact that I am at a stage now where I would probably say to young people ‘look, it’s hugely important and we need the best people doing it, but you would be able to support yourself and your family much better, much more easily, if you did something else’.

“If I were a corporate lawyer I’d probably be planning my retirement about now. But as a criminal lawyer I’m going to be working for another 20 years, even though I’m 54 now.”

Claire Mitchell, president of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, said: “We are very concerned that criminal law is no longer providing a sustainable option for young lawyers. If young lawyers do not consider a career in criminal law to be viable, then we are heading towards a crisis in the criminal justice system.”

Mr Scott said the poor pay on offer for legal aid work during antisocial hours has resulted in trainees shunning the work.

“In effect there has been a pay cut for legal aid work,” he said.

“The risk is when all the ageing men and women have given up practice there are too few people left to sustain the profession. The next Donald Findlay, the next Gordon Jackson, I just wonder where they are going to come from.”

Criminal silk Thomas Ross QC said: “If you get in the door of one of the sexy commercial firms in Edinburgh you can be on £50,000 within five years, while no junior qualified criminal solicitor is getting £35,000 at that point.

“Neither of my daughters are interested in becoming a lawyer and I’m delighted about that because the job gets harder and harder. There’s no money in it and the conditions are terrible with young trainees having to head out to police stations at 3am. Who the hell wants to do that?”