Today’s 5% across the board increase in legal aid fees must mark the start of a journey to address a generation of underfunding in legal aid.
Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The 5% increase in legal aid fees is a welcome step forward, but it is only a step. Successive governments have allowed legal aid fees to plummet in real terms. We need a long-term plan to address this generation of underfunding.
“While the Scottish Government has already announced a further 5% increase in legal aid fees from next year, this does not solve the problem. Legal aid is a fundamental part of access to justice for many of the most deprived and vulnerable people of Scotland. Years of underinvestment can only be fixed with a comprehensive plan for what happens long term.
“Today’s increase is the highest increase in legal fees in more than a decade. Indeed, for most fees it is only the second time they have increased at all in the past 10 years, or longer. It is thanks to the hard work of our Legal Aid Committee that we can welcome this investment in legal aid, and to the local bar associations, faculties and individual solicitors who added their voices to the call for funding.
“However, we cannot be complacent. 2023 will come around all too quickly. We need to ensure there is a robust fee review mechanism in place that means it’s financially viable for solicitors to carry out legal aid work now and in the future. This needs to be a top priority for the next term of the Scottish Parliament.”
In addition to the across the board legal aid fee increase, the Scottish Government has also offered a support package for the sector as a result of the particular economic challenges brought by the pandemic. This includes funding towards supporting legal traineeships - details and the application process for which we expect to be announced shortly.
Amanda added: “The final part of the support package is the up to £9 million legal aid COVID resilience fund announced by the Scottish Government. Ian Moir, co-convener of the Legal Aid Committee, has been steady in his commitment to ensuring that this money reaches the firms most in need of it. I am grateful for his efforts to raise issues with the Cabinet Secretary for Justice who confirmed over the weekend that the criteria is being reviewed on the back of the first wave of applications. This funding is a lifeline for firms struggling to keep the doors open, and volunteers and staff at the Law Society are committed to doing all that we can to ensure that everyone entitled to do so receives this much-needed help.”