Lawyers boycott appeal court over levels of pay

Michael Matheson is under fire over levels of pay for lawyers. Picture: Michael Gillen
Michael Matheson is under fire over levels of pay for lawyers. Picture: Michael Gillen
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DEFENCE lawyers, including those in the justice secretary’s own constituency, are threatening to boycott Scotland’s new Sheriff Appeal Court over “derisory” levels of pay.

Falkirk and District Faculty of Solicitors said legal aid rates for the new court were so low that solicitors based outside Edinburgh would end up out of pocket. It means some appellants could be faced with having to find new legal representation for their appeal.

The court, which was established under the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, will begin hearing criminal appeals from today.

In an open letter to justice secretary Michael Matheson, MSP for Falkirk West, one solicitor said the legal system was being undermined by pay which was at a level set in 1992.

Willie McIntyre, whose letter was reproduced by the Scottish Legal News, said: “I see that, ironically, the day the new Sheriff Appeal Court comes into force you are to give the annual Apex Lecture, entitled Fairer Justice.

“When you do, perhaps you could make those present aware that, because of your government’s stance on legal aid, no constituent of yours who has suffered a potential miscarriage of justice will have access to a local solicitor for appeal work.

“The members of the Faculty have decided that it is simply unaffordable to subsidise criminal appeals in 2015 by carrying out work at 1992 rates of pay.”

He added: “By offering this antiquated and, indeed, derisory rate of pay, in effect the government is denying a remedy to those men and women who received expert legal advice that they have suffered a miscarriage of justice.”

Ross Yuill, president of the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA), said the system was “untenable”, with city solicitors paid £27.40 for the first half hour of their appearance at the Sheriff Appeal Court and a further £20 in travel expenses. The majority of appeals are expected to last no longer than 30 minutes.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to working with the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Legal Aid Board to review fee structures to ensure these reflect the work that solicitors need to do, preserve access to justice for clients and support the effective operation of the courts. The number of summary appeal cases are relatively small.”