Legal aid news and updates

Legal aid news and updates February 2013

Cost limitations in civil legal aid cases

The Civil Legal Aid Team has received notice of a cost limitation system due to be implemented by SLAB on 21 March 2013. Members of the profession will shortly be receiving a mailshot from SLAB covering the new system.

The team has discussed the principle of such a system with SLAB, and do not object in principle to introducing cost limits for civil cases. However, due to short notice of the detail of the system, the team has not had the opportunity to engage with SLAB on key issues of concern. The team has raised these issues with SLAB, and would advise the profession to be aware of these concerns. Full details can be found in the comments paper available to download here.

The team will continue to discuss these concerns with SLAB going forward. Comments are welcome, and can be sent to the team by emailing legalaid@lawscot.org.uk.

Criminal legal aid review update

Led by Law Society of Scotland President, Austin Lafferty, and Vice President, Bruce Beveridge, we are carrying out a review in to the way we carry out our work on criminal legal aid.

The review will look not only at structures but also at support systems, consultation processes and other areas surrounding the decision-making process.

We have emailed members working in criminal legal aid asking for them to engage with us constructively in this review. We have also emailed faculty representatives offering to meet with their faculty members to discuss the review.  Since then we have met with a number of faculties to discuss issues and to share ideas. If your faculty has not met with us and you wish to discuss these matters, please contact your faculty representative to arrange for such a discussion.  Alternatively, contact us direct on legalaid@lawscot.org.uk.

You can read Austin Lafferty's discussion paper here. The paper suggests one option for how the structure and process for the Society's criminal legal aid work could look. We would like members to give us their views. Perhaps you have a different idea of how things could work? Please discuss them with your colleagues and let us know what you think. Please email your thoughts to us at legalaid@lawscot.org.uk.

Although there is no fixed date for this review to close - the sooner we receive your views the better.

Notice of prisoner move

Please be aware that due to extensive refurbishment of HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling commencing February 2013, any clients that solicitors may have within the prison may be transferred to HMP Polmont in Falkirk.

Identified prisoners will be transferred to Polmont for a period of between six to nine months as of the 12 February 2013 and all agents are advised to seek clarification from their clients if they are on the list to be transferred. This would be advisable rather than turning up at HMP Cornton Vale and the client is actually in HMP Polmont.

Late payment interest and legal aid

The Legal Aid Committee has been considering the position of solicitors' accounts with the Scottish Legal Aid Board in relation to statutory late payment interest.

The committee has reviewed the terms of the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Scotland) Act 1998, together with the terms of Directive 2011/7/EU on Combating Late Payment in Commercial Transactions, and has received counsel's opinion on the matter. The committee is of the opinion that the 1998 Act does not currently comply with the terms of the 2011 Directive, in that it does not cover the relationship between SLAB and solicitors carrying out legal aid work. The committee believes that under the Directive, solicitors should be able to claim late payment interest, and have made that point in a consultation response on the implementation of the 2011 Directive.

The consultation response and counsel's opinion are avaiable here.

Payment of expert witnesses for legal aid

The civil and criminal legal aid teams have been working with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to reform the way expert witnesses are paid.

A copy of the Society's proposal on experts is available here. We hope that this proposal would both create a simplified procedure for finding and instructing an expert, and result in significant savings to the legal aid fund. This proposal is being discussed with SLAB, and we would welcome your thoughts and comments so that we can take these forward in our discussions.

In addition, SLAB intends to bring the travel arrangements for experts in line with that for solicitors by paying half the current hourly rate for travelling time. We expect that this will come into effect by 1 March 2013.