Borders lawyers on strike

Borders lawyers took strike action today (Monday) in protest at the Scottish Government’s attempt to make them work the St Andrew’s Day holiday.

Jedburgh Sheriff Court.
Jedburgh Sheriff Court.

All the legal firms in the region who provide a defence for clients in criminal courts united to withdraw their services in order to highlight their latest grievance at losing their public holiday without consultation.

A custody court was due to be held at Jedburgh Sheriff Court on Monday, with only one case on the list.

Due to the action, the accused was left unrepresented and instead of a normal court hearing, the case was dealt with by telephone.

Defence lawyers are warning that unless the Scottish Government listens to their grievances then Monday’s withdrawal of their services could be the first of many strikes.

Mat Patrick of Galashiels-based defence lawyers WSA Bannerman Burke said: “Taking away public holidays without consultation was the straw which broke the camel’s back and we decided enough is enough.

“The underlying issue here is that legal aid lawyers are working for less now in real terms than they were in 1999 and we feel we are just being ignored.”

Defence lawyers in the Borders issued a statement yesterday to explain to their clients why they had taken the “difficult decision to boycott” Monday’s court.

It read: “On our national holiday of we, as Scots, wish to claim to live in one of the fairest countries in the world, then we must strive to ensure that those accused of a crime are properly represented in court by an independent lawyer.

“Many of those whom the state elects to prosecute cannot adequately represent themselves and lack the means to pay for a lawyer.

“Independent representation in these circumstances is paid for by Legal Aid.

“Legal Aid lawyers are working, in the vast majority of cases, for rates of pay which are lower than they were in 1999 in absolute terms.

“Factor in inflation and the real reduction approaches 50 per cent.

“Years of reasonable attempts to have this situation remedied have been met with responses by the Scottish Government which have been contemptuous, ignorant and insulting.

“The latest reasonable requests have included asking for grant aid to pay for the substantial additional capital costs occasioned by the pandemic and a response to the fact that defence lawyers’ incomes have been badly affected by COVID 19.

“Not only has this approach been dismissed entirely, but public holidays have been taken away without consultation.

“The strain on defence agents is now such that the existence of a strong independent criminal bar is threatened.

“We cannot stand by and let that crucial element of Scottish society collapse.”

The defence lawyers are asking for the support of the public in their grievances with the Scottish Government.