Scottish lawyer Donald Findlay tops legal aid earnings list

Scottish lawyer Donald Findlay QC has topped the legal aid earnings list after being paid nearly £400,000 for work last year, the latest official figures show.

Defence lawyer Donald Findlay arrives at Glasgow High Court

The 67-year-old advocate was paid £389,000 for his services between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018, a rise of £27,000 from a year earlier.

Advocates Brian McConnachie QC and Anthony J Lenehan were second and third in the top 20, bringing in £308,000 and £304,000 respectively.

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The highest-earning firm was Glasgow-based Livingstone Brown Solicitors, which received nearly £ 1.8m in legal aid payments.

Glasgow’s Latta & Co Solicitors, also in Glasgow, and Dunfermline’s Martin, Johnston & Socha earned £1.6m and £1.5m respectively to complete the top three.

The fees were part of a legal assistance bill to taxpayers totalling £124.4m, down from £135.7m a year earlier.

The figures come from the latest report from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) show

It shows a total of 203,203 grants of legal assistance were made in 2017 to 2018, of which 76,740 were for civil, 115,193 for criminal and 11,270 for children’s cases.

Criminal cases accounted for £74.1 million of the expenditure, down 13 per cent from £85.4m. A further £42.3m was paid out for civil cases, £5.4m for children’s cases and £32.3m for grant-funded projects.

Applications for criminal legal assistance fell by 8,000 from the previous year.

SLAB chief executive Colin Lancaster has warned that falling cases numbers will continue to impact on firms’ incomes.

He said: “The 13 per cent fall in criminal payments to the profession this year comes on the back of several years of falling expenditure. This is not because of a reduction in funding or in the level of fees. Rather it reflects a very significant and long-term fall in reported crime and the increasing availability and use of alternatives to court prosecution.”

Mr Lancaster said measures relating directly to legal aid, including the government reforms and proposed changes to criminal fees, were only part of the solution.

He added: “We strive continually to improve the operation of the system, focusing our efforts on taking earlier decisions, making our guidance clearer and reducing the administrative workload for the profession.

“But falling numbers of legal aid applications mean that these steps and those announced by the Scottish Government will not address the very real financial challenges facing parts of the profession. We urge firms to consider and plan for their future in an environment of lower business volumes and lower overall expenditure.”

Mr Findlay has taken the top slot several times in his 40-year career, including in 2016 when he was paid £288,000. Last year he was overtaken by Mhairi Richards QC, who became the first woman to hold the title after earning more than £500,000.

SLAB’s latest annual report also details progress in a range of areas, including: access to the Legal Aid Fund; new rights to advice for those in police custody; the Independent Review of Legal Aid; and organisational change.