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Public fear legal aid cuts will hit Society's poorest

28 November 2013 | tagged News release

Four out of every five Scots fear Scottish Government cuts to legal aid will hit the poorest people in society according to new independent polling published today by the Law Society of Scotland.

The research, commissioned by the Society and carried out by polling organisation Ipsos MORI, shows huge support of legal aid in Scotland and a strong recognition of the vital role it plays in our justice system.

However, the poll also highlighted the large majority of Scots who believe cuts to legal aid risk impacting the poorest within communities.

The research has been published weeks before an expected Scottish Government consultation on the possible introduction of contracting in criminal legal aid and an aim to save a further £3 million from the legal aid budget. Scottish ministers have made a budget provision for legal aid expenditure for 2014/15 of £132.1 million, the exact same level as that spent in 1994/95.

The research from Ipsos MORI found that:

  • 81% believe legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure we have a fair society, regardless of cost
  • only 10% believe legal aid is a waste of money
  • 83% believe the poorest in society will be most affected by Scottish Government cuts to legal aid

Commenting on the research, the Convener of the Society's Legal Aid Committee, Ian Moir, said: "This research shows huge public support for maintaining a properly funded system of legal aid in Scotland. It also highlights the deep and widespread concern that cuts risk harming the very people which the legal aid system was designed to help and support.

"Legal aid is central to the values of our justice system. It exists to ensure access to justice is not dependent on your status or how much you earn. It also maintains the basic right to a fair trial, a right that is critical to any society which chooses to describe itself as fair or democratic. We cannot take legal aid for granted.

"However, we know that legal aid is under pressure like never before. Whilst it is important to recognise the strain on public budgets, it would be wrong to look at legal aid as a soft or easy target for further cuts. You also cannot ignore the significant reforms over recent years which have delivered a range of savings to legal aid here in Scotland.

"We know further reforms are in the pipeline, reforms which aim to deliver additional substantial savings. We will work constructively with the Scottish Government but equally we will fight strongly to ensure the fundamentals of our legal aid system are preserved."

Notes to editors

The Law Society of Scotland commissioned Ipsos MORI to conduct a telephone survey 1,000 people in Scotland on their attitudes towards legal aid. The data has been weighted by: age, sex and working status using census data; tenure using SHS data; and public-private sector employment using Scottish Government Quarterly Public Sector Employment series data.

Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

  • If the Government makes cuts to legal aid, it will be the poorest members of society that will be most affected.

83% agree

12% disagree

2% don't know

3% neither agree or disagree

  • Legal aid is a price worth paying for, regardless of cost

81% agree

11% disagree

3% don't know

5% neither agree or disagree

  • Legal aid is a waste of public money

10% agree

83% disagree

2% don't know

5% neither agree or disagree

Legal aid spending by the Scottish Government was:

  • 2010/11 - £161.4 million
  • 2011/12 - £157.7 million
  • 2012/13 - £150.2 million

ENDS                                                                     28 NOVEMBER 2013

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Please contact Kevin Lang on 0131 476 8167 or Suzy Powell on 0131 476 8115.

Email: kevinlang@lawscot.org.uk or suzypowell@lawscot.org.uk

28 November 2013

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