GLASGOW Bar Association may not have voted on whether to continue serving the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s police station duty scheme, but its president Ron Mackenna is very clear on how its members feel about it.

“This issue is really tapping into a deep feeling of unhappiness,” he said.

Not that the unhappiness is directed at the duty scheme itself, which for an individual lawyer does not create much more than a few weeks’ worth of extra work each year.

Rather, the frustration is directed at decades’ worth of chronic underfunding which mean that during those weeks those lawyers cannot afford to pay anyone to do their day job. As a result they have to spend their days in court with their own clients and their nights on call servicing the rota.

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As new legislation coming in at the end of the month is likely to see the number of calls they receive shoot up, solicitors across the country are voting with their feet, with their withdrawal from the scheme representing more a revolt against the legal aid system in general than the police rota itself.

“It’s almost a straw that broke the camel’s back situation,” Mr Mackenna said.

Edinburgh Bar Association president Leanne McQuillan agreed, noting that “the problems which criminal defence solicitors face across the country go far beyond the issue of the police station duty scheme”.

“That we find ourselves in this position is the straightforward consequence of the underfunding of the system of criminal legal aid, which has occurred over the last 25 years,” she said. “In real terms, solicitors are now being asked to work for less than half what they were paid more than a generation ago. That state of affairs is unsustainable, as the departure of solicitors from this most vital of public services in their droves confirms.”

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To make matters worse for the SLAB, the internal lawyers it was relying on to keep the service going come January 25 are revolting too, with unrest about the zero-hours contracts they have been employed on for the past six years finally bubbling over into action.

To solve this dispute the SLAB is offering contact line staff permanent contracts and all the benefits that go with them.

As this will instantly inflate the value of the work they do, though, the move may appease internal staff but it is likely to heap more misery on the dwindling band of legal aid lawyers in the process.