I HAVE been an SNP member for more than a decade and with the prospect of another independence referendum on the horizon it is imperative we get the next year right.

There has been a lot of discussion about train strikes over the last week but do you know criminal defence solicitors have been taking “industrial action” for more than nine months in Scotland? We are rightly seeing our SNP elected members up in arms about the UK Government’s Bill of Rights, which fundamentally reduces and takes away our human rights.

This is something we should all be taking incredibly seriously. As Professor Leslie Thomas QC said, it is totalitarianism in broad daylight.

Our human rights are essential to protecting standards of living in a modern functioning democracy and will be ever more important as the cost of living crisis plunges even more people into poverty. However, in order to ensure that our human rights are upheld, it is imperative that anyone who needs access to a lawyer has it.

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Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that to uphold the right to a fair trial, there must be adequate time and facilities to prepare a person’s defence. This is just no longer possible in Scotland after years of cuts and refusal to invest in the pillars of justice.

There has been a great deal of talk recently about the imminent collapse of criminal defence in Scotland. Lyndsey Barber took the decision to leave the profession and documented why in a video on YouTube. I want to say this was an extraordinary move but it wasn’t. People are leaving left, right and centre for all the reasons Lyndsey stated.

It is important we speak about this situation honestly. This is entirely the responsibility of the Scottish Government – it is a devolved issue. We have a minister and junior minister with a portfolio directly responsible for the justice system in Scotland and they are failing woefully.

The Scottish Government has year on year on year cut the legal aid budget – which ensures that those who cannot afford it will still get access to justice – therefore further widening inequality.

The pandemic savaged the courts and judicial system, and as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, there is a need for investment and reparatory work. Instead Keith Brown is sticking his head in the sand – he is nowhere to be seen.

Senior reporters from STV are receiving no reply to requests for interview, with not even a hint of a statement to appease the criticism. Those he represents are crying out for re-assurance and he hasn’t even acknowledged the problem.

Brown is tweeting and talking about the UK’s Bill of Rights and the Nationality and Borders Act but he isn’t talking about the doubling of the number of people currently held in custody on remand awaiting trial compared to pre-pandemic figures, damningly now considered to be the longest periods in Europe. He isn’t talking about protecting justice for those that need it in Scotland.

Firms across the country are making a decision to stop taking on complex cases on legal aid because they no longer have the resources available to them to prepare a proper defence. This cannot be underestimated. It means people in Scotland in 2022 have no recourse to justice, have no route to representation.

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While we are having national conversations about better support for those with addiction and mental health problems, when these same people enter the judicial system they are forgotten. They are subjected to cycles of criminalisation without proper representation or defence.

The Scottish Government has led the way with new legislation to protect victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence and has expanded definitions to reflect coercive control, acknowledging that the reality of abuse is not just physical. However, without proper funding in place for defence, there’s no trial. With defence lawyers in short supply, trials are being postponed with no justice for anyone and a continued cycle of re-traumatising those involved at the expense of the public purse.

The economics of this doesn’t work or make sense. Holding people in custody awaiting trial for longer than necessary is a threat to their human rights but it’s also really expensive, as is repeatedly calling cases only for them to be knocked on due to lack of resources. It costs money and further wastes a clogged-up court’s time.

We currently need a justice secretary to be present, engaging and ready to solve the challenges that the judicial system in Scotland faces. The solutions are there but the justice sector needs a minister who will come to the table and acknowledge the grave situation we are in. It’s time for Keith Brown to decide whether he’s ready to come to the table or stand aside and let someone else step in.