Scottish Legal Aid Consultation
The Scottish Government has published a consultation on legal aid reform in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has said that it believes there are three overarching foundations of reform, namely that legal aid:
i) has the user voice at its centre;
ii) has flexibility to address and adapt to user need; and
iii) should be regarded as a public service.
and is inviting views which could promote a major shift in how policy is formulated, how services can be delivered, and how it is perceived.
The consultation explores the rationale to move away from a system currently focused on those who provide legal services funded by the Legal Aid Fund, that is constrained by the existing statutory framework and unable to act responsively to external developments, and whose purpose may be misunderstood and undervalued by many members of the public.
It examines, in more detail, how this change agenda can be delivered with reference to:
i) scope and oversight
ii) improving access and targeted interventions
iii) simplicity and fairness
iv) enhanced powers and best value
Responding to the announcement, John Mulholland, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said,
“We called for an independent review because of the complexity of the current legal aid system and because the current funding model is unsustainable. Legal aid provides access to justice across Scotland, protecting human rights and helping people during some of the most difficult periods in their lives. This consultation provides the opportunity to examine the system as a whole and create a fairer and simpler system that places users at its heart.
“The consultation recognises the importance of having a network of legal aid firms and practitioners providing help across the country in a wide range of areas of law and with the ability to respond quickly to meet the needs of people in local communities. This network has reduced in recent times and we have seen a drop of 20% in the number of criminal providers registered in just the last five years.
“It’s vital that we work to address this decline. While reducing complexity may be part of the solution, funding remains a challenge. There was a 3% increase in fees in April, but there had been practically no change during the previous decade, and for significantly longer in relation to some fee levels. While this consultation does not consider these issues, we hope that the current review of the legal aid payment framework will result in a system that will mean solicitors are fairly paid for the important work that they do.
The full consultation, which follows the 2018 Rethinking Legal Aid review led by Martyn Evans, is available on the Scottish Government website: Legal Aid Consultation.