Legal Aid Changes

CONTENTIOUS proposals to make defendants contribute in advance to their legal aid costs have been put on hold following a threat by lawyers to drop clients who fail to pay up front.

New legislation, aimed at cutting the legal aid bill, would see defendants paying lawyers directly, instead of legal firms collecting money from the state.

The move, which was due to come into effect later this year, has been widely opposed by lawyers who fear losing out financially if clients refuse to contribute before their case is due to be heard.

Guidance from the Law Society of Scotland, published in The Scotsman last month, advised lawyers not to appear in court on behalf of clients unless they had paid in advance, raising the prospect of hundreds of defendants being left to represent themselves and potentially opening up the Scottish court system to countless miscarriage of justice claims.

Last night, the Scottish Government said a revised timetable for introducing client contributions would be announced shortly.

“Legislation to introduce contributions for criminal legal aid was passed by parliament last year as part of a programme of reforms in Scotland to reduce spending while continuing to protect the range of cases eligible for legal aid,” a spokesman said.

“Following the changes to criminal work guidance recently announced by the Law Society, we have delayed the implementation of contributions, to ensure that these changes are taken into account.”

A series of public roadshows designed to explain the changes has also been postponed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab), it was confirmed yesterday.

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