Publication of the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s annual report this month could have caused some confusion among solicitors. The headlines highlighted an overall increase in the legal aid bill to record levels. Elsewhere, coverage and comment focused on high-earning QCs and firms. All at a time when so many legal aid practitioners are feeling the pinch. The confusion is understandable.
The full picture, as ever, lay in the small print. Credit should go to SLAB for attempting to draw attention to the fact that the rise in spending was principally due to the cost of serious criminal cases in the previous two years. In other words, the bill arrived in 2007-08 though a sizable portion of the costs had been incurred before then.
As ever when discussing legal aid, it is also worth remembering that the amount paid to firms must cover the expense of paying staff salaries and other overheads, such as rent, rates and the costs of running an office.
The overall increase, therefore, is unlikely to have had any impact on those dealing with bread and butter summary work. Also, they are practitioners affected by the current reduction in the number of prosecutions. And, perhaps more significantly, the Scottish Government’s budget for next year is based on a 6% drop in summary legal aid spending.
Needless to say, the Society continues to monitor the reforms to summary legal aid. Rest assured that if any resulting savings in the overall criminal justice budget are indentified, we will put forward the case for reinvestment in the legal aid system.Oliver Adair is Convener of the Legal Aid Solicitors Committee