Lawyers in Scotland demonstrated outside the Holyrood parliament this week, threatening to strike in protest over changes to the country’s legal aid system.
The Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance bill, currently before the parliament, proposes that defendants with a disposable income of £68 or more a week contribute to their legal aid. The money would be collected by the solicitor. The government claims the changes will save £3.9m from Scotland’s £157.2m annual legal aid bill.
Solicitors said the contribution threshold is too low and that the money should be collected by the Scottish Legal Aid Board rather than turning solicitors into ‘state-sponsored debt collectors’.
Members of the Edinburgh and Glasgow bar associations have both voted in favour of industrial action over the changes. Strike action seems likely to go ahead after two amendments to the bill were rejected on Tuesday. Over 100 lawyers, including the president and chief executive of the Law Society of Scotland, picketed Holyrood before the debate.
Society president Austin Lafferty said: ‘The impressive turnout at [the] protest showed the huge strength of feeling among solicitors.
‘They believe passionately in protecting our legal aid system and are deeply concerned by some of the key aspects of the proposed changes which are thought to be unfair, both to those who find themselves accused of a crime and to the solicitors acting on their behalf.’