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The Scottish legal aid system breaches European law and the human rights convention on , a court has ruled.
In a test case, Fort William Sheriff, Colin McKay ruled that two Mallaig fishermen could not receive a fair trial because the £500 cap on legal aid fees in Scotland limited their access to justice.
The two defendants, who had denied a racially aggravated assault on a Spanish fisherman, were allowed to walk free, although the Lord Advocate was granted leave to appeal to the High Court.
Legal aid fees capping was introduced in Soctland earlier this year. Since then, fees paid to defence solicitors attending courts in Fort William, Wick and Dunoon have had to be increased by £50 to persuade them to take on cases.
In a written judgment, McKay said the financial limits imposed on the investigation and preparation for trial breached Article 6 of the Convention which guarantees a fair trial for defendants.