Scottish lawyers have attacked the Scottish Office's changes to fixed fees for criminal legal aid, saying the payments do not make provision for complex cases.
The fixed payment system for legal aid in summary cases – originally proposed in a Scottish Office's consultation paper in October – was increased after responses to the paper were received. For example, the fee for hearing a case in district courts for the first day has increased by £25 bringing it to £500.
However, Phillip Dry, president of the Law Society of Scotland, argues that the fees fail to account for complex cases where a number of witnesses may have been interviewed, but which do not then go on to trial.
“The fees are not a fair reflection of the time solicitors put in,” he says.
Dry says the Scottish Law Society suggested that cases involving 10 or more witnesses should be treated on a “time and line” basis – “but the Scottish Office wouldn't go for that”.
A spokesman for the Scottish Office says: “I find it difficult to believe that a case heard at the Sheriff court would come to more than £500. These things will even themselves out over time.”
Alex Prentice, a partner at Edinburgh-based McCourts, who has actually approached his local MP regarding his concerns about the fixed fee in legal aid cases, argues: “If a case is complex and takes time, I cannot supply my services if it costs me money to do so.
“It is becoming quite alarming. In a recent case the expert witness received the same fee as myself,” he says.