The resilience fund to support legal aid firms and law centres struggling due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on business levels, opened for applications today.
Part of the package offered by the Scottish Government following talks with the Law Society of Scotland and local bar associations, the fund is open to any legal firms whose turnover is usually at least 20% derived from legal aid payments, and who have experienced a drop in projected income from new legal aid business, once any other form of COVID-related government support is taken into account. They must intend to continue operating in the legal aid sector post the coronavirus pandemic.
Applications for assistance must be made by 31 March 2021. Up to £9m is available to the profession through the fund.
The fund aims to bring firms back up to the income they could reasonably have expected had the pandemic not impacted on levels of new legal aid business. Grants will take account of the actual impact of the pandemic on casework volumes and projected income, as well as other forms of Government financial support received since the start of the pandemic.
Click here for further information on applying. Applications are made through the Scottish Legal Aid Board's website. SLAB will calculate a reasonable approximation of the value of lost business, using historic and current data on new business volumes and average case values. The Scottish Government will issue a decision letter following determination of an application.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf commented: "Scotland’s legal profession has worked extremely hard since the COVID-19 outbreak to help maintain access to justice services. I’m pleased we are in a position to provide this significant financial backing to those in the legal aid sector facing financial difficulties."
He added: "We recognise the important contribution legal aid makes towards tackling inequalities across Scotland – helping vulnerable people deal with issues such as debt, housing, and mental health, as well as providing a defence against criminal charges. It is to society’s benefit that Scotland has a strong legal aid system, ensuring that an individual’s rights are protected while supporting the rule of law."
Welcoming the fund, Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland said: "We are pleased to see the launch of the £9m COVID resilience fund for legal aid firms which have suffered most from a loss of business over the last year.
"The legal aid sector was already under significant pressure, even before COVID hit. The sudden drop in court cases because of the pandemic meant many legal aid firms could have been lost, risking an access to justice crisis for many of the most vulnerable in our society. I am pleased the Cabinet Secretary responded so positively to our call for action and came forward with a substantial £20 million support package, including this COVID resilience fund.
"It is now important that all legal aid firms look closely at the fund criteria and make an application if they believe they are eligible."
Angus McIntosh, chair of the Scottish Association of Law Centres added: "The new fund is a lifeline which will help many of us to continue to operate and provide essential services in very difficult circumstances."