VIRTUAL CUSTODY HEARINGS
Members will be aware that we have written to the Sheriff Principal to request that virtual custody hearings be suspended as, in their present form, they do not comply with the accused's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. We are pleased to see that the Law Society of Scotland has now confirmed that it is their view that these hearings should be suspended. Following on from the LSS announcement, the EBA have again written to the Sheriff Principal reiterating our concerns and asking that virtual custody hearings are stopped.
Legal aid practitioners continue to provide a valuable service throughout the corona virus pandemic. However, firms have been hit very hard by the lack of progress in cases and the requirements to upgrade technology. Please see our submissions to the Legal Aid Committee of the Law Society of Scotland here.
COVID 19 COURT ARRANGEMENTS
The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service have published guidance on the operation of courts during the the Corona virus pandemic, including arrangements for facilitating guilty pleas. We welcome any feedback on how these measures work in practice and any additional steps that members feel should be put in place. Please email any comments to the EBA.
We have published all the dates we have been given for Edinburgh Sheriff Court summary business that has been adjourned administratively. Refixing dates for Edinburgh Justice of the Peace Court can be made available by emailing the EBA with the name of the accused and the date the case was originally due to call.
COVID 19 TESTING
The Scottish Government have extended the programme of testing for COVID 19. Guidance on who is eligible to be tested can be found on their website. Please note that the Scottish Government have confirmed that practising legal professionals who are required to attend court, police stations, prisons and/or provide face-to-face advice to vulnerable individuals or groups, are priority group three key workers for the purposes of Covid-19 testing. (Please note that Government restrictions and the principles of social distancing should be adhered to in all the circumstances referred to above).
The Law Society of Scotland have fought hard on behalf of members for a reduction in the SLCC levy. The SLCC have refused to budge at all. The only concession made has been to allow payment of the levy to be deferred up to 31st October 2020. ALL solicitors holding a Practising Certificate on 30th June 2020 are required to pay this year's SLCC levy, irrespective of unemployment/retirement or other status. We estimate that over a third of EBA members have been 'furloughed' since lockdown began. In other words, over a third of our members would have been made redundant but for the Government job retention scheme. Those on furlough have already been off work for over two months. With all but the most urgent business adjourned, the court diary for June and July is very quiet. Therefore, we can reasonably expect periods of furlough to be extended until the end of July at least. We are facing a situation where many solicitors will have been away from work for four or more months but are still liable to pay the full SLCC levy. No allowance has been made by the SLCC to reflect the present situation.
LAW SOCIETY AGM
In April, the Law Society of Scotland announced a package of changes to assist solicitors. Those are outlined by Law Society President, John Mulholland, in the article below. The proposed changes include a reduction by 20% of the accounts fee paid by law firm partners, a reduction to zero of the client protection fund contribution for law firm partners and a reduction in the practising certificate fee for 2020/21 to £460. The reduction in the practising fee has to be approved by solicitors before the Law Society AGM. Members can approve that resolution by voting here. Voting is open until 12 noon on the 26th May 2020
TRIAL BY JURY AND COVID 19
We were pleased to see the Scottish Government withdraw proposals to remove trial by jury in solemn criminal cases from recent emergency legislation to tackle the corona virus crisis. However, that subject is being revisited by a trial by juries working group. The Edinburgh Bar Association intend to make further submissions to the Scottish Government and will publish those shortly.
We are extremely concerned that the Scottish Government are again moving to remove the right to trial by jury for the most serious cases by advocating solemn trials with judges only or by significantly increasing sentencing powers in summary cases (which would have the effect of removing trial by jury for many cases).
We welcome feedback at email@example.com
HATE CRIME AND PUBLIC ORDER (SCOTLAND) BILL
The consultation period on the proposed Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill is open until the 24th July 2020. The Edinburgh Bar Association are preparing a response which will be published here in due course. In the meantime, we welcome any feedback from members at firstname.lastname@example.org
FREE ONLINE CPD
The Law Society of Scotland will host a free online CPD seminar providing a Criminal Law update. Topics to be covered include the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill and COVID 19 legislation. The seminar takes place at 3pm on 8th June 2020. Members can register here.