Lawyers fear 'two-tier' defence

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The controversial American-style "public defender" system is to be tried out in the United Kingdom for the first time as part of a cost-cutting shake-up of the legal aid scheme in Scotland.

Henry McLeish, the Scottish home affairs minister, said the system, under which an accused is represented by salaried lawyers employed by the public sector, would be piloted next year. At present, accused people on legal aid choose their own lawyers from firms in private practice. The study may only last five years, but the development is being widely seen as a precursor to the introduction of the system nationwide. Lawyers on both sides of the border have largely opposed any change. Cameron Fyfe, of Ross Harper & Murphy, a leading Glasgow firm, said: "We are going to have a two-tier system, with the rich choosing their lawyer and the poor being dumped with a public defender."