Time is right for root and branch change of legal aid
The Law Society of Scotland has said that the country’s legal aid system has not kept pace with reforms to the wider justice system and there is a need for ‘root and branch change’.
The Law Society has published a discussion paper to generate debate on how to improve publicly funded legal advice and services.
Alistair Morris, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The current legal aid system is almost 30 years old. In that time there has been extensive change which has resulted in a system that is hugely complex, with even highly experienced solicitors reporting that they find it difficult to navigate.
“We don’t believe that the current system is fit for purpose and, with the ongoing reforms to modernise the wider court and justice system, the time is right for root and branch change. We need to rethink legal aid as a whole and look at where efficiencies can be made and how savings can be reinvested to ensure that people can obtain legal advice when they need it most, regardless of their status or wealth.
The discussion paper presents a range of ideas for reform of both criminal and civil legal aid. These include:
- Streamlining the block fee system and introducing a single criminal legal assistance certificate to replace the current range of categories.
- Reinvesting savings made in the legal assistance system
- Creating a system to encourage early resolution of cases
- Provision of affordable loans for civil cases to replace the current client contribution system administered by the Scottish Legal Aid Board
Ian Moir, convener of the Society’s criminal legal aid committee, said: “We are becoming increasingly concerned about the real term decline in expenditure on legal assistance which has been on-going for years. We believe that re-investment of efficiency savings into legal assistance can deliver savings to the justice budget, to public services, the wider economy, and add value to both clients and communities.”
Mark Thorley , convener of the Law Society’s civil legal aid committee said: “We want to generate discussion among solicitors and also invite feedback from other important stakeholders. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government and SLAB to bring about improvements but are keen to involve other advice organisations such as Citizen’s Advice Scotland and charities including Scottish Women’s Aid and Shelter Scotland
“We recognise that in a challenging financial climate, there are ongoing pressures on public spending and that there are no easy solutions. Some of the ideas included in discussion paper may not meet with universal support, however the intention of publishing the paper is to be able to consider a whole range of options and to generate a full and frank discussion on the future of legal aid in Scotland.”
Note to editors
The discussion paper is available to read online: Legal assistance in Scotland discussion paper