Strike vote by lawyers set to hit courts

SHERIFF courts could face chaos in the run-up to Christmas after criminal defence lawyers voted to strike.

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Representatives of law faculties from across Scotland voted unanimously for fresh action over legal aid reforms.

It comes after a protest on Monday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.

No notice will be given for the walkouts, which are expected to halt cases at some of the busiest sheriff courts, in Glasgow and Paisley, and across the country.

Ann Ritchie, vice-president of the Glasgow Bar Association, said: "It's clear that, contrary to the recent statements by [Justice Secretary] Kenny MacAskill, no meaningful proposals have been brought to the table by the Scottish Government."

Ms Ritchie did not say when action would take place, but added that members felt it was needed urgently.

The profession is outraged at proposals that would mean anyone with more than £68 of disposable income per week, or holding £750 in the bank, will be expected to pay all or part of their defence costs in court.

Solicitors say it will end access to legal representation for all and claimed the Government was being "selective" in estimating 30% of clients would not pay up, suggesting it would be more like 80%.

Cameron Tait, president of the Edinburgh Bar Association, said Mr MacAskill's statement that Monday's action was premature was "ridiculous".

A Government spokesman said the latest move was disappointing.

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