|Posted on July 28, 2012 at 1:55 PM|
LAWYERS have warned that Scots accused of criminal offences will have to pay an "unfair" financial contribution for legal representation.
inShare1 Scottish Government proposals, if passed, will mean people who have disposable income of £68 a week must make a financial contribution, which is unfair, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
Solicitors have also criticised the plans because they say they will become unpaid debt collectors as a result of proposed legislation aimed at making more people contribute towards their criminal legal aid.
Oliver Adair, convener of the society's legal negotiation team, said the Scottish Legal Aid Board is the "obvious body" for collecting such money.
The Scottish Government has published draft legislation with the aim of saving £3.9 million from the legal aid budget.
The Bill makes it clear anyone with a disposable income under £68 a week would pay nothing towards the cost of criminal legal aid but a contribution would have to be paid if disposable income is above £68 but under £222 a week.
Above the upper limit, assistance will only be given if the board considers contributing money would still cause "undue hardship".
The Scottish Government has said about 80% of people receiving legal aid would continue to pay nothing and the Bill would end a situation where contributions are collected for civil cases but not for criminal cases.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has said it is "right and proper those who can afford to pay towards the cost of their legal defence costs do so".
Mr Adair said the society agrees those who can afford to contribute should do so, but said the amount is unrealistic.
He said: "The Bill proposes that the threshold for determining whether a contribution is payable should be £68 disposable income a week. We do not believe that is a realistic amount from which to expect anybody to pay towards their legal costs.
"We also have concerns around some of the areas which would be included in disposable income calculations, such as disability living allowance and war pensions. This would mean some of the most vulnerable people who rely on legal aid could have to pay a sizeable contribution towards the cost of their defence directly from their benefit payments.
"The Bill as its stands would leave solicitors as unpaid public debt collectors. The Scottish Legal Aid Board is the obvious body for collecting the contributions. After all, they already collect contributions in civil legal aid cases and have procedures to carry out large-scale collection of contributions."
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This Government takes access to justice very seriously. The criminal legal assistance element of the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill will require that people facing criminal charges should pay a contribution to the costs of their defence where they can afford it. This will bring criminal legal aid into line with civil legal aid.
"More than 80% of applicants such as those on very low income or on benefits such as income support are still likely to be eligible for criminal legal aid with no contribution due.
"We have engaged constructively with the Law Society of Scotland on this issue."
Categories: Glasgow Crime Newsflash