CONTROVERSIAL changes to legal aid, forcing the accused to contribute to defence costs, have been voted through by MSPs.
Dozens of lawyers demonstrated outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday, and warned of further protests against the Criminal Legal Assistance Bill.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, a former legal aid lawyer, rejected their complaints along with suggestions from opposition MSPs that judges and sheriffs should in some cases be able to refund people who have been acquitted.
Mr MacAskill argued such a move could lead the public to doubt the innocence of those who are acquitted but have their refund rejected.
Under the amended proposals, accused people with a disposable income of £82 a week or more, or savings of more than £750, and are not in prison either on remand or for other offences, would be expected to make a contribution.
Law firms, rather than the Scottish Legal Aid Board, would be expected to collect those fees.
There are concerns some people will plead guilty rather than meet the cost, and that justice could be delayed if fees are not paid.
Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm said the legislation was driven entirely by finance.
“The cabinet secretary has been forced to modify a very bad bill so it ends up simply as a bad bill,” he said.
However, Mr MacAskill told parliament: “These amendments reflect concerns expressed by members of the Law Society of Scotland that the original threshold of £68 might compromise access to justice.”
The Law Society of Scotland however welcomed the justice secretary’s amendments last week, angering some of its own members.
Standing outside parliament prior to yesterday’s vote, Cameron Tait, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, said: “People continue to be frustrated and disillusioned by the fact the justice secretary and the SNP are forcing this legislation through.
“We will continue to publicly oppose the system of contributions system in its current form, which will see the working poor of Scotland paying for savings in the criminal justice budget.
“We find that abhorrent.”