More than 100 lawyers and 40 legal firms have quit Scotland’s legal aid scheme amid a boycott over funding worries, figures show.
A freedom of information request by the Scottish Lib Dems shows that the number of private lawyers available for the duty solicitor scheme fell from 753 in 2019 to 643 last year.
The number of private firms also dropped from 392 to 352, the statistics provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board showed.
Lawyers, along with the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association and the Law Society of Scotland, have repeatedly raised concerns that government funding is inadequate.
Last month, society president Ken Dalling said the legal aid system was “under extraordinary pressure as a result of a generation of underfunding”.
He added: “There has been a huge decline in the number of people working in legal aid and ever escalating demands on those of us who remain.
“If action is not taken now the impact on the ability of citizens to access justice will be irreparable.”
Scottish Lib Dem justice spokesman Liam McArthur called on the Scottish Government to step in, saying: “This steady decrease in the number of solicitors and firms available to provide legal representation is extremely concerning, especially for courts in the more remote parts of Scotland.
“Access to justice relies on access to solicitors so any changes in the vital legal aid schemes could cause serious court disruption and deny people representation.
“This is not the fault of firms and practitioners have warned for years that the current fee system is utterly unsustainable. It is the fault of the Scottish Government who have failed to properly resource criminal justice.
“The pandemic caused enough disruption and courts are facing significant backlogs.
“The Government must finally reform legal aid funding to prevent a further haemorrhage of solicitors from the scheme and ensure everyone has access to legal support.”
The Scottish Government said last year it would increase funding for legal aid by 5% this year, with the same increase on offer for 2023, despite legal bodies saying the increase is absorbed by inflation rising to 5.4%.