MacAskill puts figure on threshold for legal aid in bid to end dispute

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KENNY MacAskill has provided more detail on a concession he hopes will help end industrial action by lawyers over changes to legal aid.

The justice secretary has said he is willing to raise the weekly disposable income threshold, above which people must make contributions to their defence costs, from £68 to £82.

He had previously said he would consider an increase, but had not said by how much.

The £82 figure had previously been suggested by the Law 
Society of Scotland, but as part of a package of changes to the Criminal Legal Assistance Bill.

Cameron Tait, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, said the figure was still too low.

“I’m willing to increase the threshold to £82 but it will have to be met from within the existing budget which would meet fees,” Mr MacAskill said.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, he also revealed that 33 people had appeared in court undefended as a result of action by lawyers on Monday.

Mr Tait warned more people would represent themselves in court if the government’s legal aid proposals go ahead.

“That [£82 a week] is still very, very low-income groups,” he said. “There would still be a very real threat of people pleading guilty to save money.

“If these changes go through, even at £82 per week, a lot of people will defend themselves.”

Mr MacAskill is to meet lawyers today to try to find an end to the dispute.

A spokeswoman for the Law Society of Scotland said: “The alternative threshold will be 
discussed at the meeting.”