Solicitors had threatened to boycott legal aid cases involving alleged sex offenders in pursuit of their pay demands with ministers.
But in an emergency meeting in Edinburgh yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland accepted a package from Hugh Henry, the deputy justice minister, that will increase their payments by up to 12 per cent.
The rise in legal aid fees, while significantly above the rate of inflation, is only the second increase in 14 years, leading some solicitors to brand the Executive’s offer “derisory”. One solicitor said last night the conflict over legal aid fees was certain to be revived next year, when the way solicitors are paid is changed.
Vincent McGovern, chairman of the Hamilton Bar Association, said: “The problem has not been solved, it has been patched up with this agreement.
“If we had this level of dispute over a system of payment that is due to be scrapped, it does not bode well for relations between solicitors and the Executive when the new payment system comes in next year.”
The deal means legal aid rates for solicitors in the most serious cases – known as solemn work – will rise to around £70 an hour for court appearances and around £49 an hour for other work.
The dispute arose after solicitors accused the Executive of dragging its feet over legal aid reform and the introduction of block payment for work, although that is now likely to come in next year.
In a statement yesterday, Oliver Adair, convener of the society’s legal aid (solicitors) committee, said: “I consider that the amended offer [by Mr Henry] reflects a renewed commitment by the Scottish Executive to fair remuneration.
“It also reflects the minister’s appreciation of the work done by the profession in ensuring the effectiveness of the Bonomy reforms in the High Court.
“I will continue to work with the profession to ensure that solicitors are properly remunerated for the work which they do.”