Scotland to be test bed for public defenders

A PILOT for a public defender system is to run in Scotland in the face of opposition from the solicitors' profession.

Six public defenders will be appointed to take criminal legal aid cases in either Edinburgh or Glasgow, in a five-year pilot which implements part of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997.

The pilot, due to start in October, aims to cut the rising cost of legal aid in Scotland, which has doubled over the past 10 years. It has been welcomed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

But Cameron Fyfe, managing partner of Glasgow firm Ross Harper and Murphy, warned this week that public defenders could cost the taxpayer more.

He estimated, “using figures based on this firm's workings”, that it will cost £83,000 annually to fund each of the six public defenders, as opposed to the current cost of £81,000 for a legal aid solicitor.

Both Fyfe and the Law Society of Scotland fear the scheme will create a two-tier system of justice, jeopardise independence – since the state will fund both prosecution and defence – and lead to a drop in the unprofitable area of civil legal aid which is largely subsidised by criminal legal aid work.