Criminal Justice Committee
Non-participation of Solicitors in Weekend Custody Courts for COP26 and Legal Aid Matters
Letter from the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee to the Minister for Community Safety, 28 October 2021
I am writing on behalf of the Committee to express our concerns at the current situation and the decision of various associations representing solicitors not to participate in the weekend custody courts for COP26.
Whilst it is not the Committee’s role to intervene or mediate in this dispute, we are concerned about this situation which we believe is an issue that needs immediate attention and resolution.
The Committee has been looking at the issues with legal aid more generally and has heard evidence from relevant associations about both the issues related to COP26 and with legal aid more generally.
The Committee requests an urgent joint update from the Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board on the steps you will be taking to resolve the current dispute, the impact on Police Scotland, our court service, and those arrested and kept in custody. We also request information on the contingency plans that will be put in place to deal with the situation if the dispute is not resolved before COP26 commences.
Police sources cited by various media outlets suggest that there could be between 150 and 300 additional arrests per day and we are concerned about the impact on Police Scotland and our court service if there are no lawyers available to help process any of these arrests either to attend police stations or courts. It would be helpful therefore to receive details of what you expect the impact on the police and courts to be if the dispute is not resolved.
It would be also helpful to understand more about what offers you have put forward to try to resolve the situation and whether you have made, or may make, commitments to the longer term resolution of some of the issues in the legal aid system. This Committee hopes to have a role in the scrutiny of any forthcoming legal aid bill and we also plan to publish our initial thoughts on reform following the roundtable we held recently.
As the matter is urgent given the impending start of the COP26, I would be grateful for an early reply.
I am copying this letter to the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Police Scotland and the COPFS for their interest. The letter will be placed in the public domain and our officials will provide a copy to the various associations when published.
Audrey Nicoll MSP
Convener, Criminal Justice Committee
Letter from the Minister for Community Safety to the Convener, Criminal Justice Committee, 3 November 2021