Reform of legal aid for summary justice
The Scottish Legal Aid Board has published a consultation paper developed in consultation with the Scottish Government, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the Scottish Court Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill today welcomed its new proposals and pledged to ensure that solicitors are paid 'appropriately and fairly' for the work they do in summary criminal cases.
The proposals in the paper underpin the summary justice reforms set out in the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 by increase substantially levels of payment to criminal lawyers at early stages of the system but withe the aim of saving money overall by encouraging early resolution of cases, avoiding unnecessary work.
The intention is to introduce the changes outlined in the consultation by spring 2008.
Mr MacAskill said:
"The criminal justice system in Scotland is undergoing its largest and most far reaching reforms in at least a generation. Already the reforms to our summary justice system will ensure that fewer cases go to court needlessly, and that those cases which do go to a court get there more quickly, are better prepared and progress more speedily.
"As part of that work, this Government wants solicitors to be appropriately and fairly paid, and wants public funds to be used to support an efficient and fair summary justice system. These proposals, which have been developed by SLAB in consultation with this Government, aim to save time and expense; to avoid wasted effort; and to reduce the demands made on victims and witnesses.
"I realise there will be challenges for defence solicitors in adapting to new ways of working. We cannot be deflected from major reform, but I want to listen carefully to their views on how the proposals can be improved. This builds on the very positive engagement we have had with the Law Society on reform in solemn cases."
Although the summary justice system deals with less serious offences, summary justice accounts for 96 per cent of criminal court business, with over 130,000 cases every year. In 2006-07, £65.2 million was spent on summary criminal legal assistance.
The summary justice system model published recently explains how the Scottish Government and criminal justice organisations plan to implement reforms to the summary justice system in the coming months.
The consultation paper proposes a number of major changes to summary criminal legal assistance including:
- substantial increases in the block fee to reflect changes to the operation of ABWOR ( Assistance by Way of Representation). These fees are proposed at £200 for district court cases and £300 for sheriff courts for ABWOR blocks compared to £70 currently. ABWOR will now support preliminary and guilty pleas with fixed fees only being needed for representation at trial. [The current system tends to support not guilty pleas which change prior to the trial] This will allow fair remuneration to solicitors to prepare cases on behalf of clients early.
- a smaller increase in the summary criminal block fees of £325/£525 in the District/Sheriff court respectively for cases going to trial. [These rates have remained unchanged since their introduction in 1999.]
- increase of 21 oer cent in Advice and Assistance rates
- the accused in appearing from custody or an undertaking will be able to secure his solicitor of choice who will be paid for such work. The Duty scheme payments will be enhanced to provide representation in cases where the accused has no solicitor