Members of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) have stopped accepting new instructions in some domestic abuse cases as part of a campaign for better legal aid rates.
The action, which began 3 May, relates to section 1 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 which covers coercive control.
“Offences under s.1 of the Act are inherently complex and involve significantly more work than most summary cases,” the SSBA said in a statement.
“For example, the same fee is payable for a summary case alleging a single punch on a specific date and time as is payable for an allegation under s.1 of the Act which must relate to behaviour over a period of time (which could be years) and which refers to multiple incidents.”
The association, which represents private-practice defence lawyers, added: “The fees payable for legal aid work are derisory. As a profession, we cannot undertake complex cases for a fixed-fee rate which was set decades ago and was never intended to include such complex and lengthy cases.”
Association president Julia McPartlin was quoted by the BBC as saying: “We fully appreciate that this is going to have a potential impact on victims as well as other witnesses and the accused people themselves.”
The Scottish government’s community safety minister, Ash Regan, said ministers are committed to reforming legal aid but the 50% increase sought by the Law Society would cost £60m a year.
Though Scottish Women’s Aid chief executive Marsha Scott expressed some sympathy for lawyers, she termed any delays to section 1 cases as very dangerous in a system facing a huge backlog exacerbated by the pandemic.
“The commercial model is not fit for purpose. Witness attrition is going through the roof. Women are walking away from cases,” she added.