The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has published a draft code of practice which it intends to impose on all solicitors conducting criminal legal aid work.
The code covers the management of cases, staff training, compliance with legal aid guidelines and legislation, and the maintenance of a suitable complaints procedure.
In a move which currently has no parallel south of the border, the board intends to introduce the code next April after consulting with the legal profession.
Solicitors wanting to register to do criminal legal aid work will then have until next October to satisfy the board that they meet the code's requirements.
They will then be monitored by the board and be subject to removal from the legal aid scheme in the event of non-compliance.
A spokeswoman said: “At present the board has no means of monitoring the quality of legal aid work carried out in Scotland and only limited powers of investigation when we suspect abuse of the system or poor levels of service to clients.”
A Law Society of Scotland spokeswoman said: “The society is confident that a sheriff will only grant a warrant for entry where reasonable grounds are clearly established and there is no alternative course of action for SLAB.”
Meanwhile, the board is advertising for a lawyer to fill the £50,000-a-year post of director of Public Defence Solicitors.
The director will begin work heading the planned Scottish public defender pilot scheme in spring 1998. The appointee will recruit a team of six solicitors employed directly by SLAB.