Law Society of Scotland to review structure for legal aid
The president and vice president of the Law Society of Scotland are to lead a wide ranging review of how the organisation carries out its work on criminal legal aid.
The review, which was approved by the Law Society Council, will involve full consultation with legal aid solicitors, faculties and bar associations.
The Society's work on criminal legal aid has historically been led by a negotiating team, made up of experienced criminal legal aid solicitors who are appointed and have delegated powers from the Society's Council. That team has been supported by the Society's executive staff. The planned review will consider alternative models for carrying out this work and follows concerns from a number of members.
The President of the Law Society, Austin Lafferty, said: "We know our members, even those working outwith legal aid, believe that protecting the legal aid budget and supporting legal aid solicitors needs to be a high priority for the Society.
"The solicitors who volunteer their time and energy to serve on our criminal law negotiating team do a fantastic job, working against a difficult backdrop of shrinking public budgets and a majority Scottish Government which can ultimately push whatever reforms it wishes through parliament. The Society is also investing more in its legal aid work than ever before with an expanded staff team covering access to justice issues, including legal aid.
"However, I've listened to those members who have raised concerns about the Society's existing structure for dealing with criminal legal aid. These are not new issues but came into a sharper focus with the legislation to introduce criminal legal aid contributions.
"That's why we want to ask our members what structure and arrangements they think would best serve their interests and ensure the Society is being as effective as it can on legal aid policy and reform. We are genuinely open minded and want to listen to our members' ideas and suggestions.
"This also needs to be a real priority, not least because of the big challenges on the horizon, including contracting and likely drives from Scottish ministers to make yet further savings to the legal aid budget. We plan to meet with faculties over the coming weeks and hope that members will engage constructively in this review."
Notes to editors
The Society will be writing to all criminal legal aid solicitors the week commencing 4 February 2013 with details of the review. The president and vice president are also seeking early meetings with the office bearers of the Edinburgh Bar Association and Glasgow Bar Association, both of which had written to the Society to raise concerns over the mandate of the existing criminal legal aid negating team.
The Society has historically had two legal aid negotiating teams, one covering criminal legal aid and one covering civil, with an overarching legal aid convener who was a member of Council.
The Law Society Council subsequently approved minor changes to create a single legal aid committee covering criminal and civil legal aid but with two sub-committees covering criminal and civil legal aid. As with all Society committees, the membership of the legal aid teams is by appointment with approval by Council.
For further information:
Please contact Val McEwan on 0131 226 8884 or Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115
05 February 2013