Edinburgh chosen to pilot public defender scheme

EDINBURGH has been confirmed as the site of Scotland's public defender scheme, Scottish Office minister Henry McLeish has announced.

Date of birth will be the criterion used to decide whether defendants use the public defender scheme or existing legal aid provision, according to current proposals from the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to be published in November.

This would mean every accused person born in October, for example, being directed to the public defender's office, said SLAB spokeswoman Fiona Shaw.

But it is still uncertain whether the five-year scheme, due to take place in Edinburgh Sheriff Court and Edinburgh District Courts, will be compulsory for members of the public.

The public defender office will open on 1 October 1998, from a location yet to be chosen. Details of the scheme will be finalised after a consultation period in the profession.

Up to six solicitors, including the director of public defence solicitors, a post which the SLAB is to advertise in October, will be employed by the scheme.

Law Society of Scotland president John Elliot stressed the society would co-operate fully with the pilot, but expressed reservations about the scheme. He added: “At the end of the pilot I am sure the private system will be the more attractive option for clients needing a solicitor to act in their defence.”

A team of independent researchers is to be hired by the Scottish Office to monitor the scheme.