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Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2006, 20:38 GMT 21:38 UK
Legal aid growth 'widens choice'
Hugh Henry said he wants to modernise the legal aid system
Access to legal aid will be made easier with an expansion of the system of public defenders, ministers have said.

They said the creation of six Public Defence Solicitors Offices (PDSOs) would benefit those accused of a crime by widening their choice for defence.

The new offices are expected to open next year in Ayr, Dundee, Aberdeen, Falkirk, Kirkwall and Dumfries.

However, the Law Society of Scotland said it was not convinced that a further roll out of PDSO was justified.

Scotland currently has three, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness.

We believe that the PDSO offers clients increased choice and a more holistic service
Iain Robertson
The Scottish Legal Aid Board

However, Deputy Justice Minister Hugh Henry said there were parts of the country where there may be limited competition for publicly funded criminal legal advice.

"We want to modernise legal aid by developing more choice for people needing legal advice and assistance," he said.

"We believe that publicly funded criminal legal assistance in Scotland is best delivered by a mix of salaried legal professionals and those in private practice.

"The Public Defence Solicitors Offices play a vital role in widening the range of choices available to accused persons."

Iain Robertson, chair of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, welcomed the expansion.

'Detriment of solicitors'

"We believe that the PDSO not only offers clients increased choice and a more holistic service, but offers value for money and enables valuable insight into the operation of the criminal justice system," he said.

"We will work in partnership with those involved in the criminal justice sector in these new areas to establish the new offices in 2007."

However, Oliver Adair, convener of the Law Society's legal aid solicitors committee, said: "The Scottish Executive needs to carry out a full evaluation of the existing pilot schemes.

"The society believes that the current priority should be investment in the legal aid system to ensure the long-term viability of private solicitors providing an independent, value for money service.

"The society will continue to work to ensure that valuable resources are not diverted to the detriment of solicitors who work in private practice."

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