EDINBURGH Bar Association is continuing to cut back on the number of Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) rotas its members are prepared to serve on as part of an ongoing protest about the level of fees paid for publicly funded legal advice.

Having initially withdrawn from SLAB’s police station duty rota at the end of 2017, the organisation’s members shunned its Justice of the Peace court roster in September last year and in November voted to stop accepting court appointments in summary cases where the accused is prohibited from carrying out their own defence.

READ MORE: Legal aid system in crisis as lawyers shun police duty scheme

Now the small number of EBA firms that sat on SLAB’s extradition court duty scheme have decided to withdraw, with the association’s full membership considering whether to give up duty work altogether.

EBA president Leanne McQuillan said that despite the Scottish Government announcing that all legal aid fees would rise by three per cent in April, the association’s members are taking a stand because they feel the increase does not go far enough.

“The 3% increase is too low as far as we’re concerned,” she said.

“We don’t feel that the 3% will do anything to alleviate our concerns about the future of the legal aid profession.”

When the EBA’s members began cutting back on duty work in December 2017, the association said it was as a direct result of many fee levels remaining unchanged since 1992.

With firms doing publicly funded work unable to attract talent at the junior end workloads had increased for everyone else, making it harder for firms to juggle rota commitments with their own workloads.

In light of this, the association, whose members will continue to offer the full spectrum of legal aid-funded services to their own clients, has placed its rota membership under review.

READ MORE: Edinburgh lawyers shun Justice of the Peace legal aid rota

“We’re still on the duty plans for domestic matters and normal custodies, but we have considered whether we’ll continue to be on both of those,” Ms McQuillan said.

“We have discussed whether to withdraw from all of them and some people are in support of doing that – I personally support it. They are both under review.”

A spokesman for SLAB said that as the number of cases heard in the extradition court, which sits within Edinburgh Sheriff Court and hears cases from across Scotland, averages around two a week the lawyers from its own Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO) will cover the gaps in the rota left by the six departing EBA firms.

“The PDSO solicitors are on duty one week in three in line with Scottish Government policy on PDSO duty allocations. The other six private firms were on duty one week in nine,” he said.

“Four of the six private firms have given us the four weeks’ notice required to withdraw from the duty plan.

“PDSO Edinburgh will cover the small number of extradition cases that require the assistance of the duty solicitor if private firms aren’t available for duty slots.”

The PDSO also stepped in when solicitors’ groups from across the country followed the EBA’s lead and withdrew from the police station duty scheme, with a spokesman for the Scottish Government - which funds SLAB - indicating that any future gaps would also be filled by PDSO solicitors.

“We have acknowledged the financial challenges faced by some members of the legal profession and have been encouraged by the positive response of both the Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates to our announcement of a 3% increase in all legal aid fees from April,” he said.

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“The Public Defence Solicitors Office and Civil Legal Aid Offices ensure that vital access to legal aid solicitors is maintained for those in our society, often the most vulnerable, who are entitled to it.

“There are no indications that the withdrawal of some services by the Edinburgh Bar Association has resulted in people being unable to access a solicitor.”

The Scottish Government announced the 3% rise to legal aid fee rates despite a review carried out by Martyn Evans, the departing chief executive of charitable organisation Carnegie UK Trust, recommending no increase be made. The government has also committed simplify the system by reviewing how fees are set and paid.