Scotland: Defence profession bares its teeth as lawyers down their gowns

Scotland: Defence profession bares its teeth as lawyers down their gowns

#GownsDown at Dumbarton Sheriff Court (via SSBA)

Defence lawyers around Scotland downed their gowns yesterday in protest against the Scottish government’s refusal to promptly disburse payments from a resilience fund it established to help the numerous firms affected by the pandemic.

The Scottish government has only paid out £2.3 million of the £9m fund and less than a third of firms that applied for funding have succeeded. Nor has its trainee support scheme opened yet, while prosecutors, as civil servants, have been fully supported throughout the pandemic.

The Glasgow Bar Association noted that business was down in the custody court by 40 per cent on the usual figure for a Monday.

It tweeted: “Last case calling in the custody court at 10.35pm. This, with only approximately 60% of the normal volume of business for a Monday. Perhaps gives a view to the future when there are fewer defence lawyers if there is no investment.”

In a day that vindicated the formation of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) this year, lawyers downed their gowns in Edinburgh and Glasgow; in Aberdeen and Inverness and from Dumbarton, Greenock and Hamilton to Kilmarnock and Livingston.

The SSBA tweeted that “custody courts all over Scotland have been quiet today as defence solicitors boycotted them in pursuit of a fairer deal” and warned that this would “sadly become the norm” if the issue was not resolved.

Scotland: Defence profession bares its teeth as lawyers down their gowns

#GownsDown at Greenock Sheriff Court (via Waqqas Ashraf) and Inverness Justice Centre (via SSBA)

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has not acknowledged the crisis in Scotland’s defence profession, nor has he explained why the resilience fund, which is worth less than half of the money saved by the government since the onset of the pandemic, is being guarded.

There are fears amongst lawyers that the Scottish government is intent on entrenching an inequality of arms in the courtroom. The unique ‘not proven’ verdict – which is functionally identical to ‘not guilty’ – will almost certainly be abolished in this Parliament, while the government has yet to make any assurances that the jury majority required to secure a conviction will be increased from a bare majority.

The SNP also promised in its manifesto to establish a Victims Commissioner post and plans are afoot for juryless rape trials in a climate in which the conviction rate is deemed to be a problem, raising the spectre of miscarriages of justice and calling into question the independence of the judiciary.

Ian Moir, convenor of the Law Society’s Legal Aid Committee, told our sister publication Scottish Legal News: “I expect [the government] to invite the Law Society and SSBA to a meeting later this week. 

“We will be pressing for them to use our original proposal for the resilience fund and to get the trainee fund opened urgently.”

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