DESPITE widespread protests from solicitors across the country, new legislation that gives everyone taken in for police questioning the right to legal advice has not resulted in a dramatic increase in police station visits for duty solicitors.

According to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) its Solicitor Contact Line - the first port of call for anyone who does not have their own solicitor to turn to - received a total of 24 requests for solicitor attendances in the first five days of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act going live.

This is lower than the number it had anticipated and equal to the average number of attendances requested in the year to June 2017, when a total of 1,945 personal attendances equated to five per day.

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A spokesperson for the SLAB said that as the board’s projections are based on annual averages they “will be prone to fluctuation when looked at in very short time frames”, but added: “Our early projections for duty attendances suggested there would be around eight requests in any 24-hour period, whereas in the first five days it was approximately five per day.”

It comes after hundreds of private practice solicitors withdrew from the SLAB’s police station duty scheme, citing fears that greatly increased out-of-hours workloads would be unmanageable when all those on the rota would be going on to represent clients in court the following morning.

However, while the SLAB figures suggest that such fears were unfounded, figures from Police Scotland also highlight a significant reduction in the number of people being held in police custody over the weekend.

In total, 884 people were detained across Scotland between the evening of Friday, January 26 and the morning of Monday, January 29, down from 1,036 over the same weekend last year. That equates to a drop of just under 15 per cent.

The reduction was most marked in the police’s West command area, which takes in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. Here the number of people held in custody fell by 21 per cent, from 510 on the same weekend last year to 402.

This chimes with concerns from solicitors that the police would respond to potential gaps in the duty rota by releasing suspects rather than having to deny them their right to legal advice.

However, Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan said the decline in the number of people held in custody is a trend that has been emerging over a number of years that would “continue with the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act”.

According to justice secretary Michael Matheson the point of the act, which came into force last Thursday, is to modernise the way the justice system deals with people suspected of committing crimes.

Specifically, by introducing the principal of investigative liberation, the act has given the police far greater scope to free those suspected of crimes while retaining the right to re-arrest them at any time as investigations progress.

It has also given everyone brought in for police questioning the right to legal advice, while previously only those being formally interviewed had that privilege.

It is the latter provision that led solicitors to revolt, with over 200 of the 835 that were signed up to the duty scheme from Orkney to the Borders pulling out.

On the eve of the act going live, the 20 criminal defence members of the Faculty of West Lothian Solicitors voted unanimously to withdraw from the scheme, with its vice-dean Kate Fabian noting that members “have had growing concerns over a number of years as to the increased workload and pressure that changes made to legislation have brought upon our members”.

While the real reason behind the protest is less the duty scheme itself and more what the profession sees as the chronic underfunding of legal aid work more generally, at least some of the refuseniks’ concerns about the new system appear to be justified.

After solicitors groups warned that the new rules would see them treated as social workers rather than legal advisers, one solicitor took a call in the wake of the changes coming in from a suspect reporting that they had had nothing to eat for 12 hours while another was called from a detainee who only wanted to chat.