THE Law Society of Scotland has warned a “crisis is looming” in the Scottish legal system – as criminal barristers in England consider a strike.

Criminal Bar Association members in England and Wales are to be balloted on action over fees, with a proposed date set for July 1. Ian Moir, convener of the Law Society’s criminal legal aid committee, fears the consequences of “inadequate” salaries for Scottish criminal lawyers.

He said: “After decades of stagnant fees and fee cuts the situation is now critical in Scotland. The current levels of remuneration for legal aid work are unsustainable and practitioners are leaving this area of work in their droves. Unless there is immediate significant investment in legal aid fees a crisis is looming.

“There are already very few young lawyers coming into this branch of the profession and soon we will see that impact on the quality of the judiciary if fewer lawyers have experience in this work. The work we undertake is complex, demanding and at times dangerous and unpleasant.

“Unless there is major investment to redress the uneconomic rates of pay, along with a commitment to annual inflationary rises, people will struggle to find a good and experienced lawyer to represent them, which would impact on the ability of ordinary people to have meaningful access to justice.”

Criminal legal aid was increased by 3% last month, but Julia McPartlin, president of Edinburgh Bar Association said: “In real terms, our rates have reduced every year since 1992. Significant cuts were made in 2011 with a view to achieving a 7% reduction in legal aid expenditure. The actual reduction made was 31%. We acknowledge that an increase of 3% has recently been put in place. However, this goes nowhere near far enough to rectify the damage caused by years of underfunding.”