Christmas came early for Scotland's legal profession as Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced an extra parcel under the tree of £1.8 million pounds of taxpayers money for lawyers to do legal aid work.
Members of the Law Society of Scotland thanked Mr MacAskill for his generous gift, and urged more taxpayers money be handed over to the legal profession as lawyers were not able to feed themselves on anythning less than £150 per hour for a quick chat !
John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, must have money to burn, or is he taking it from victims of injustice to give to the legal profession ?
The Herald reports :
Lawyers yesterday welcomed a government announcement that the amount of money they receive in legal aid is to go up from next year.
Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, said lawyers in the most serious criminal cases will see the fees they can claim increase by 7% from April.
At the moment, top QCs receive £900 a day while conducting so-called "Category A" High Court trials, which include murder, culpable homicide and robbery.
A row broke out last year over the level of legal aid, with lawyers across the country threatening to refuse to represent people charged with sex offences in protest over what they claimed was the previous Scottish Executive's failure to implement a revised pay structure.
But speaking at a legal aid conference in Dunblane yesterday, Mr MacAskill said it was important that lawyers are paid "appropriately and fairly" for the work they carry out.
He said: "Scotland's legal profession provides an essential service, helping people at times of crisis, protecting their rights and helping businesses to grow.
"The work the profession does in advising, assisting and representing clients who could not afford to pay for the services is a vital part of increasing access to justice for all.
"This government is committed to ensuring that solicitors are paid appropriately and fairly for the work they do.
"We have already made improvements in legal aid fees for work involving adults with incapacity and vulnerable witnesses and have improved fees for some undefended actions in the sheriff court.
"This increase in legal aid fees for solemn cases is long overdue and is a tangible example of this government's commitment to the legal profession."
Mr MacAskill said the increase in fees, which are estimated to cost the public purse an additional £1.8m a year, will be brought in alongside substantial reforms to the structure of legal aid.
Taken alongside previous increases, the move represents an overall rise in fee levels of 25% since the new system of fees was introduced in 1992.
In 2004, advocacy fees were increased by 15%, while charges for waiting times and meetings with clients went up by 5%.
The following year, advocacy fees increased again, by 8%, while all other fees went up by 12%.
Lawyers have called for a more regular review of legal aid fees and Ian Duguid, the chairman of the Faculty of Advocates' Criminal Bar Association, last night said Mr MacAskill's announcement was a positive development.
He said: "On any view, this is very welcome indeed.
"Come April next year, it will have been three years since the last review of fees, so this is good news.
"I know lawyers are always looked upon as earning inflated fees, but when you're talking about criminal legal aid, compared to Northern Ireland and England, we are the poor relations."
Oliver Adair, the convener of the Law Society of Scotland's legal aid committee, said: "We welcome the positive announcement by the minister, and in particular welcome the increase in solemn criminal legal aid rates in a year of restricted public spending.
"The society will urgently consult with the profession and hopes that an effective, revised system for solemn criminal legal aid can be introduced quickly."