Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Lawyers 'work to rule' in Scotland causes criminal case backlog, impedes public access to justice

The dispute over legal aid 'fixed fees' and a lack of any substantial discussion from the Scottish Government to resolve the situation or provide any substantial rises in legal aid for representing clients charged with criminal offences has prompted a 'work to rule' by solicitors in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

The Justice Secretary claims there is no more money on the table, a regular claim we have got used to over the years as the annual 'work to rule' comes around but don't be surprised if a few pennies are found ... and of course, the Law Society claims not to know anything about anything ....

The Scotsman reports :

Chaos in the courts as lawyers work to rule


SOME of Scotland's busiest courts will today be thrown into disarray after last-minute talks failed to resolve a dispute with lawyers over pay.

Sheriff courts in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Falkirk, Dumbarton and Kilmarnock will be hit by the work-to-rule agreed by hundreds of criminal lawyers across the country.

The rolling industrial action will see lawyers refuse to represent people arrested and detained by police.

The burden of processing the cases will instead fall on a handful of "duty" solicitors.

The move is likely to cause serious disruption today, when hundreds of people arrested over the bank holiday weekend are expected to be processed.

It could mean that the courts have to operate right up to midnight. If the courts are unable to deal with all the custody cases by that time, offenders will have to be released and told to return to court later in the week.

Yesterday, leaders of bar associations – which represent solicitors in cities and towns across the country – held talks with Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, in a bid to resolve the dispute and avert the work-to-rule.

They are angry at changes to their legal aid payments, which they say will mean a sharp drop in income for hundreds of solicitors, potentially driving many firms out of business.

The work-to-rule was initially agreed by the Glasgow Bar Association last week. However, it emerged yesterday that several other associations around the country have since pledged to join the industrial action.

Sara Matheson, president of the Glasgow Bar Association, last night told The Scotsman she was "very disappointed" a compromise was unable to be reached with the justice secretary.

"We were very hopeful about the talks but unfortunately our hopes were dashed. There wasn't any movement from the cabinet secretary," she said. "Quite a number of associations are supporting us by carrying out the same industrial action."

She said Edinburgh Bar Association shared her anger at the legal aid reforms, but had chosen not to undertake a work-to-rule, meaning the city's sheriff court will be spared the chaos.

Ms Matheson said the "rolling" work-to-rule was intended to cause disruption to the operation of the courts, "by withdrawing our goodwill".

"This is intended to highlight the work our members normally do to assist the ends of justice," said Ms Matheson, who added that lawyers were not paid for the "vital" custody service they normally provide.

The Glasgow Bar Association represents a third of the 1,400 criminal lawyers in Scotland and serves Glasgow Sheriff Court, Europe's busiest court.

The reforms were announced this month by Mr MacAskill as a way to tackle "wastage" in the system, which the government claims amounts to £4 million. Scotland's legal aid bill is about £150 million a year.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government last night said Mr MacAskill was "willing to engage constructively" with lawyers, but said there would be no more negotiation over the reforms, which will be introduced next month.

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