Lawyer groups will today take action in protest at the Scottish Government’s refusal to grant an increase in legal aid.

A number of bar associations across Scotland will either refuse to attend court, or limit the numbers of lawyers attending, in what has been described as the “first step” in action aimed at securing more financial support.

It is understood that the move may cause delays to the processing of custody cases - when accused make their first appearance after being arrested.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said it has contingency plans in place to allow custody courts to proceed.

The action comes after the Law Society of Scotland asked the government to implement an across-the-board 50% increase in legal aid fees, as well as a grant system for firms left struggling due to the coronavirus crisis and the shutdown of the courts.

The Scottish Government has instead agreed to enhance fees for solicitors dealing with early guilty pleas, and to part-fund 40 traineeship places in a bid to help the profession. The justice secretary is also planning to engage with the profession this week.

However, both the Edinburgh and Glasgow Bar Associations have claimed that the government’s response so far is unacceptable.

Julia McPartlin, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, whose members have decided not to attend court today, said: “There is a mounting backlog of cases and it will be essential to have a strong and viable bar to process those cases.  The Scottish Government do not appear to agree, having done little to support and maintain the profession throughout lockdown. 

“We have been told our members must now work on public holidays. Monday is the St Andrew’s Day public holiday created by the Scottish Government. The court would normally be closed on this holiday. It is frankly insulting that the Scottish Government ignore our pleas for assistance over the last two decades and now expect us, without any consultation, to work additional days.

"It is a measure of the level of contempt with which we are treated that they do not even see fit to redistribute the saving in the existing legal aid budget to help us at a time of global pandemic.  

“For these reasons, the members of the Edinburgh Bar Association have voted overwhelmingly not to attend court.”

Meanwhile in Glasgow, the committee of the bar association are asking lawyers to instruct them to represent their clients who are due to appear.

This has the effect of allowing solicitors to take their holiday, while also limiting the number of lawyers representing accused, causing delays and potentially forcing the court to sit for longer.

President Fiona McKinnon said the Scottish Government’s response to solicitors’ plea for help has been “woefully inadequate”.

She added: “This is really just our first step. It is a gesture to our own colleagues at the bar to show them that we value them, it will allow them to take the day off and will not prejudice any accused in custody.

"We now want the government to recognise our value.”

The Aberdeen Bar Association will not be taking action, but have today written an open letter to the justice secretary - published in The Herald - calling for him to address the concerns.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf will this week engage with the legal profession to discuss potential further support.

"In the current financial constraints, the Scottish Government has not been able to agree a 50% increase in Legal Aid fees but is actively progressing a sustainable fee reform package that is beneficial for solicitors.

"Meanwhile an interim payment scheme is still in effect and provides a means to increase cash flow and build financial resilience. It has not been accessed by the majority of solicitors and we would strongly encourage them to use that.

“Other assistance available solicitors during the pandemic has included furlough payments and VAT deferrals.”