Solicitors slam Scottish goverment over ‘lack of engagement’ as justice crisis deepens
The Scottish government has been sharply criticised over a “lack of engagement” with solicitors as the criminal justice system teeters on the brink of collapse.
The Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA), which was formed in 2021 to represent and promote the interests of criminal defence solicitors, said its relationship with the Scottish government had reached an all-time low under Justice Secretary Keith Brown.
“When Kenny MacAskill was Justice Secretary, he was no friend of the criminal bar, but he spoke to us,” the SSBA tweeted last week. “When it was Humza Yousaf we enjoyed the best relationship with government we had in years. From Keith Brown and Ash Regan, nothing…”
It added: “The opposition parties recognise the problem. Jamie Greene and Liam Kerr have raised the issue regularly, as has Katy Clark. Yet from the party of government, who only yesterday were praising the lawyers who blocked the Rwanda flight, nothing.
“Barristers and solicitors in England and Wales are voting on strike action, on shutting the justice system down. Is that what it will take to get the Scottish government to come to the table?”
The criticism comes amid warnings that Scotland’s legal aid crisis will become worse over the years to come.
Earlier this year, members of the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) said they would no longer accept court appointments in cases where accused persons are not allowed to represent themselves in a dispute over legal aid fees.
The Law Society of Scotland has told The Herald that the situation will worsen as a result of the Scottish government’s freeze on justice funding until 2027.
Murray Etherington, the president of the Law Society, said: “We are already struggling with the capacity to reduce court backlogs that will run until 2026 as a result of the pandemic. Complainers and witnesses are already waiting far longer to reach a resolution in court.
“The presumption of innocence is central to our justice system, yet there are twice the number of people on remand awaiting trial than before the pandemic and they are being held far longer in custody and at huge financial cost because of these delays.
“For legal aid firms that had already seen a generation of underfunding, this announcement is hugely discouraging as we await more detailed proposals from the government on addressing the current legal aid crisis.”