The Edinburgh Bar Association and Glasgow Bar Association made announcements about their plan to boycott the custody court on Monday 17th May. They have released a statement, which coincides with the announcement that practitioners in Dumbarton, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Highlands & Moray and West Lothian will boycott custody courts this Monday in protest at the failure to distribute the promised resilience fund and traineeship fund. The statement reads as follows:
The members of the undersigned bar associations wish to express our dismay at the failure to adequately support the legal aid profession through the Covid 19 pandemic. Our members have attended court throughout the crisis and continue to represent some of the most vulnerable in society. Conditions at court have been far from satisfactory and we have had to adapt to many challenges to ensure the smooth running of business throughout. We are the only ‘justice partners’ to have suffered a loss of income during the pandemic but we continued to turn up.
We have witnessed a significant decline in the number of cases the courts have been able to process during lockdown. Our firms urgently need support to continue practising whilst the pandemic is ongoing. The Scottish Government recognised this reality by assigning £9 million to a resilience fund for practitioners. There has been a complete failure to properly distribute that fund to firms who desperately need it.
There has been an increase in criminal solemn applications but summary criminal applications have decreased by 17% (41,106 in 2019/20 to 33,942 in 2020/21) and Criminal ABWOR applications by a staggering 24% (26,738 in 2019/2020 to 20,292 in 2020/21). Despite this, only £2.3 million has been distributed from the resilience fund. Of the 287 firms that applied to the fund, less than a third (93 firms) were granted an award.
There has been a steady decline in the number of young people in the profession. Legal aid firms struggle to compete with other public sector organisations, such as the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, in terms of salary and benefits. £5.6 million has been offered to COPFS to boost salaries. £1 million was promised in December 2020 to support legal aid firms to take on trainees. Not a single penny has been distributed from the traineeship fund.
The profession is at breaking point. Firms must be supported now to ensure we maintain a healthy and vibrant legal aid profession. This is fundamental to access to justice. The most vulnerable in society and, indeed, justice itself will continue to suffer if the legal aid profession is not supported. We call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to distribute the resilience fund and the traineeship fund.
Alloa Criminal Defence Practitioners
Ayr Faculty of Solicitors
Faculty of Solicitors of Dumbartonshire
Edinburgh Bar Association
Faculty of Procurators of Dumfriesshire
Dunfermline Criminal Defence Practitioners
Falkirk & District Faculty of Solicitors
Glasgow Bar Association
Society of Solicitors of Hamilton & District
Highland & Moray Criminal Bar
Kilmarnock Faculty of Solicitors
Kirkcaldy Law Society
Faculty of Paisley
Faculty of Peterhead and Fraserburgh
Society of Solicitors and Procurators of Stirling
West Lothian Bar Association