MacAskill hopes to strike deal on legal aid reforms

KENNY MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, yesterday said he was "hopeful" of striking a deal with defence lawyers over a controversial plan to overhaul the way they are paid.

The Scotsman last month revealed how proposed changes to legal aid would cut many lawyers' pay, potentially driving hundreds of firms out of business.

Mr MacAskill told MSPs he would extend a consultation on the move.

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"On Monday, I had a very constructive meeting with the Law Society and representatives from local Bar Associations to discuss the proposed legal aid reforms.

"They have concerns about the current proposals and wish to put forward an alternative approach."

He said any alternative must "be affordable within the very tight financial constraints we face".

"I am hopeful that we can reach agreement and it will not be necessary for me to impose a solution.

"I have therefore agreed that we will extend the consultation period until the end of January to allow further discussions to take place."

The Law Society of Scotland later said it welcomed the move to extend the consultation.

John Scott, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, told The Scotsman last month: "These proposals, if they are followed through, will put thousands of lawyers and legal staff out of work.

"Fewer lawyers will have to carry out more work and that is likely to result in more miscarriages of justice."

A complex set of proposed changes to legal-aid fees - the biggest in over a decade - is intended to help speed up the justice system.

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