A LEGAL aid protest that has seen hundreds of solicitors pull out of police station work has spread to the north of the country, with solicitors in Banff, Peterhead and Orkney electing to withdraw from the police station duty scheme.

It comes after hundreds of solicitors from Aberdeen to the Borders pulled out of the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) managed scheme over concerns that legislation due to come in on January 25 will lead to a marked increase in their workload.

Unlike now, when only those being formally interviewed have the right to have a solicitor present, the changes mean anyone brought in for police questioning will be entitled to legal advice, regardless of what they are being questioned about.

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The SLAB has already indicated that it will use staff from its own Solicitor Contact Line (SCL) and Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO) to cover the duty shifts following the withdrawals.

However, Ian Moir, convenor of the Law Society of Scotland’s legal aid committee, said this would be harder to do efficiently in rural areas such as Banff, Peterhead and Orkney, with suspects likely to have to wait for solicitors to travel from the Central Belt to give them advice.

“There are concerns that this means suspects won’t be provided with the advice that the [Criminal Justice] act says they should have,” he said.

Edinburgh Bar Association’s criminal defence solicitors were the first to pull out of the duty scheme, stating that ongoing cuts to legal aid mean they do not have the resources to carry out their day jobs while also taking calls from police stations during the night.

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With many more solicitors groups following their lead, questions have also been raised over whether SLAB’s directly employed staff have the capacity to take over the work.

A source at the SCL, which is the first port of call for suspects seeking legal advice, said the service is “not prepared for solicitors leaving the police station duty plan” while the SLAB this week began advertising for staff for the PDSO.

In addition to a solicitor’s job in Dundee that carries a salary of £31,480, the SLAB is recruiting for an unspecified number of solicitors to work for the PDSO across its bases in Ayr, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Inverness and Kirkwall.

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According to the job description those hired for these roles will be expected to “provide high-quality criminal legal defence services in the summary and solemn courts and at police stations - both as a nominated solicitor and duty solicitor”.

Successful candidates will be paid between £31,480 and £40,050 and will also be enrolled in a contributory defined benefit pension.