Lawyers in dispute with the Scottish Government about legal aid fees plan to stop operating the duty solicitor scheme at a major city court.
Edinburgh Bar Association (EBA) members have withdrawn support for the scheme due, in part, to “decades of neglect in Legal Aid funding”.
In a statement about the action, the EBA says its members will withdraw from the scheme with effect from Monday January 31.
The statement says: “The ongoing decimation of the independent criminal bar continues without any meaningful work from successive governments, since the advent of devolution, to stop the rot which has continued for more than a generation.”
There are concerns about funding for trainees who the EBA claims are poached by public sector agencies once trained.
The EBA added: “Funding for trainees is of assistance, but absent of any ability to compete with terms offered by public sector organisations we are being left to train graduates for others to derive the benefit from their skills.
“We have engaged at every opportunity to try and inform others and draw attention to our plight.
“It is not a situation that can endure lengthy consultation with gaps of several months between meetings.
“Help is needed now, or the criminal justice system will simply stop functioning.
“If this is allowed to happen, the impact on all accused, complainers and witnesses will be unprecedented.
“We hope that such an unprecedented step as withdrawing our service from the duty rolls will call the necessary attention to our situation, and the urgency of it.”
The EBA is also calling on other Bar Associations nationwide to follow it in taking the action.
In an earlier statement the EBA said: “The Edinburgh Bar Association has a proud history of working to seek better conditions and payment for our members.
“Since our working lives were turned on their heads by the Covid-19 pandemic we have sought at every opportunity to engage with our criminal justice partners to facilitate the running of the courts in as efficient a manner as possible.
“Regrettably, in spite of limited offers of assistance which have done little to address decades of neglect in Legal Aid funding, the criminal bar continues to be decimated.”
Last October lawyers, asking for an increase in legal aid fees, boycotted a Cop26 scheme aimed at dealing with protesters arrested during the climate conference.
There were plans to allow for weekend sittings of courts in Glasgow along with Saturday sittings in Edinburgh and Aberdeen during the conference.
Extra funding was proposed by the Scottish Government to compensate lawyers for the scheme but the bar associations took the decision to boycott.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have acknowledged the important role of the legal sector throughout the pandemic.
“The Scottish Government has provided a 5% increase in legal aid fees in 2021, plus a commitment to a further 5% increase this year.
“In addition, the Scottish Government has provided £9 million in additional funding to the profession in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as establishing a £1 million fund to support traineeships.
“This amounts to a £20 million investment in legal aid since March 2021 in addition to a 3% uplift across all legal aid fees in 2019.
“We have committed to consider other issues raised by the profession, and liaise regularly with the sector.
“Our most recent meeting was on December 22 with a commitment to meet again next week.”