The Law Society has responded to the publication of the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s (SLAB) annual report 2016 which shows a further drop in legal aid spending from £138.6 million in 2014/15 to £137.8 million.
Ian Moir, co-convener of the Law Society’s legal aid committee said: “This is a further drop in spending on legal aid following an eight percent drop in the previous year’s spend.
“While we fully understand that public funding remains an issue, the prevalence of justice problems, alongside the social, emotional and financial cost of leaving them unresolved, is too high a price to pay.
“Members of the public are right to expect an efficient service which works to resolve legal problems quickly and effectively. However we don’t believe the drop in legal aid spending correlates with a drop in legal need and this lack of investment is eroding access to justice for communities across Scotland. We have growing concerns about the longer term viability of firms which do this work and the impact on the public if lawyers stop doing legal assistance work because they cannot afford to continue to do so.”
Mark Thorley, co-convener of the Society’s legal aid committee, said: “We don’t believe the current system is fit for purpose. We need a total rethink of legal aid provision alongside the ongoing reforms to modernise the wider court and justice system.
“We published a series of recommendations in 2015 and think that, if implemented these changes would help streamline legal assistance, reducing complexity and the administrative burden. They would enable law firms to be more efficient and help generate savings which could be reinvested in the justice system. This would help ensure that people can obtain legal advice when and where they need it most, regardless of their status or wealth.”
The Law Society has carried out research into the financial health of firms offering legal aid funded advice and services. The findings are due to be published early in 2017.
The Law Society published 18 key recommendations in its report Legal Assistance in Scotland - Fit for the 21st Century