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Justice Minister Kenny MacAskill has told the Law Society that the "principle" of solicitors collecting criminal legal aid is "non negotiable", a position he is said to have repeatedly asserted at a meeting last night.
A letter from Oliver Adair at the Law Society states that at the meeting, the Society "reiterated at the outset that it remained opposed to solicitors collecting contributions in summary cases and that SLAB should collect in all cases."
"However it was agreed that given the Cabinet Secretary's repeated assertions that the principle of collection is, as far as he is concerned 'non-negotiable' there was merit in discussing whether there was anything meaningful in the SG statements that they were prepared to assist solicitors with the burden of collection should Parliament pass the Bill with the collection system unchanged in principle," the letter continued.
"The SG and the Board clarified their position in relation to the cases where Slab would collect contributions either routinely or at the request of solicitors at a commercial rate. The Society made certain observations as to how these matters might be improved and also suggested other areas where it would be more equitable if Slab collected. The Board and SG agreed to reconsider these areas to ascertain if further movement was possible.
"There was also a discussion as to how the proposed increase in eligibility levels would be funded. The Society made it clear that it could not accede to any proposal that would involve solicitors funding the change. Doing so would make an already difficult situation much worse. Significant progress was made in identifying methods of funding these developments and the Society is cautiously optimistic that an acceptable solution can be found to this issue with continued goodwill on all sides."
The Society reported that the meeting was conducted in a "positive and business-like manner", and a further meeting has been scheduled for early in the New Year.