First year criminal trainees to appear in court as legal aid situation becomes ‘extremely serious’
The Law Society of Scotland is drawing up plans to allow first-year trainee criminal lawyers to appear in court because there are too few entrants to the criminal legal aid sector, The Times reports.
There are currently between 25 and 30 trainees at criminal legal aid firms, in addition to those at firms with mixed practices.
In total there are about 1,300 practitioners who can provide criminal legal aid support but currently only second-year trainees may appear in court.
A spokeswoman for the Law Society said: “We estimate that this level of new entrants to the sector is below that required to sustain the network of criminal firms providing access to justice across Scotland.”
As such, the society is drafting new admission regulations permitting first-year trainees to appear in court on behalf of clients “subject to numerous safeguards”.
These regulations will require to be approved by the Lord President, Lord Carloway.
“We hope this process will be completed before the end of the year,” the spokeswoman added.
Commenting on the Law Society’s plans, Thomas Ross QC told The Times: “Let there be no doubt about it — this is an extremely serious situation. The trainees of today are the High Court practitioners of tomorrow and these figures suggest that there are unlikely to be enough of them to cope with the regular level of Supreme Court business.
He added: “These figures raise a real concern about future access to justice in criminal litigation. The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, with other concerned groups, should be getting their collective heads together to consider potential solutions.”
Solicitor Aamer Anwar said: “This is a shocking state of affairs. That the Law Society thinks what is needed to resolve the problem is for first-year trainees to appear in court is simply unacceptable.”
He added: “What we’re entering into is a very dangerous period, we’re talking about no young people coming to the profession within five years. I understand there’s not much public sympathy for defence lawyers but it’s not just about them, it’s about the most vulnerable and most despised people.
“If they clearly thought it was wrong for first-year trainees to appear in court before, why is it acceptable now? It’s a desperate measure.”