There must be no reductions against the amounts promised by the Scottish Government in the legal aid package announced just before Christmas, the Law Society of Scotland has said.
Urgent talks are continuing with officials over the implementation of the package, and other changes to the legal aid regulations now in draft – with clarification of the distinction between the two. Release of the draft regulations just after the package was announced caused many legal aid solicitors to believe that the package was being watered down, but the Society has been assured that the draft was prepared ahead of the package.
The regulation changes are also intended to be cost neutral, though the detail will be carefully scrutinised when costings are provided.
Following receipt of the draft the Glasgow Bar Association, believing that it incorporated the package proposals, sent a seven page letter to ministers detailing where it believed members would be worse off.
In an email to legal aid solicitors, the Society said it has since been assured that these regulations are independent of and do not include the first 5% uplift in fees, due from 1 April. The Society has stressed to ministers the need for it to be “absolutely clear that the profession will end up 10% better off at the end of the changes”.
On the £9m resilience fund to support legal aid practices, the Society is seeking to ensure that it is up and running as soon as possible and that most support goes to those firms hit hardest financially by COVID-19, many of which have been unable to access other support packages. It has further made clear that it expects the full amount promised to be paid over, whatever method of allocation is adopted.