THE prospect of the first Scotland-wide strike by lawyers came closer last night after another legal professionals’ group backed industrial action.
Members of the Glasgow Bar Association (GBA), which has almost 400 members, voted unanimously to follow Edinburgh’s lead in protest to planned changes to legal aid.
Scotland’s two largest bodies of sheriff and JP court lawyers are opposed to Scottish Government plans to make suspects pay contributions to legal costs in criminal cases, with solicitors responsible for collecting the money.
A Scotland-wide action would be unprecedented and would cause huge disruption to sheriff and JP courts.
Bernadette Baxter, president of the GBA, said: “I understand that the Airdrie bar and Hamilton bar are also to vote and anticipate that their members will be at one with Glasgow and Edinburgh.”
The Criminal Legal Assistance Bill is currently being debated in the Scottish Parliament, but lawyers believe it is just a “boxticking exercise” with ministers determined to drive the changes through.
The Law Society of Scotland, which has failed to change the government’s position during negotiations, was last night hosting a meeting of faculties from around the country, including the Edinburgh and Glasgow bar associations. It was not expected to hold a vote on the strike action.
However, lawyers have warned that they will strike before the end of the year if the government does not change course.
Cameron Tait, president of the EBA, said: “The Scottish Government needs to listen to what is the widespread view of the profession and come back to the table and consider implementing the recommendations of the justice committee.”
Several committee members spoke out against the government’s proposals, including Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Alison McInnes, who accused the Scottish Government of attempting to “pass the buck”.
“This is an impractical and unworkable solution which will inevitably lead to solicitors writing off a proportion of their income,” she said.
Oliver Adair, legal aid convener of the Law Society of Scotland, said yesterday: “We share the profession’s frustrations as the Scottish Government does not appear to recognise the validity of our arguments.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Expenditure on legal aid in 2011-12 was £157.2 million – despite savings, the second highest on record. We cannot maintain the current legal aid scheme without making the savings in the bill. We need to ensure access to justice is preserved for all.”