New backlog courts will face shortage of defence lawyers

New backlog courts will face shortage of defence lawyers

Solicitors in Aberdeen have warned that there are too few of them to cover additional trial courts that are to run in an effort to address the case backlog.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) has announced that additional sheriff and jury trials courts are to run in Aberdeen, Peterhead and seven other locations.

Ian Woodward-Nutt, vice president of the Aberdeen Bar Association, said: “Criminal defence lawyers in Aberdeen and throughout Scotland are stretched to breaking point.

“Decades of under-investment have left firms that are reliant on Legal Aid unable to recruit and retain young lawyers.

“In stark contrast, the Scottish government over recent years has invested heavily in the prosecution which now means that the salaries paid to newly qualified prosecution lawyers are double the salaries being offered for young defence lawyers.

“Predictably, this has led to an exodus of young lawyers from the criminal bar to the prosecution.

“Matters are compounded by the fact that the government has, over recent years, insisted upon criminal court procedures that are more involved and complicated than ever before.

“Defence agents are now required to carry out significantly more work and attend more hearings for the same levels of legal aid remuneration. The net result is that defence lawyers, in many instances, are unable to cope.”

He said it was “increasingly common” for trials to need to be adjourned “because of the unavailability of defence lawyers”.

He said: “It is, of course, welcomed that the Scottish government is, at long last, now prepared to invest in greater resources to make more courts available to run sheriff and jury trials.

“That is particularly the case in the Aberdeen area where delays to trial in serious criminal cases are longer than in any other part of Scotland.

“At present in Aberdeen, it is common for trials to take place four years or more after the date that an offence is reported to the police.

“However, it is utterly pointless to create more courts to run more jury trials if there are already insufficient defence lawyers to cover the existing number of courts.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We have acknowledged publicly that there are legitimate arguments for uprating Legal Aid fees and have implemented increases over recent years, alongside our most recent £11 million offer of support in July.

“This would be a total of £31 million in additional funding to legal aid providers since April 2021.”

David Fraser, of the SCTS, said the backlog “has now reduced by 12,044 trials since the start of 2022”.

“We can now have increased confidence that summary backlogs will be cleared by March 2024.”

Share icon
Share this article: