Assessment of accounts submitted by solicitors and advocates is the subject of a newly launched consultation by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

SLAB describes it as "the start of a process that will see us more clearly stating our policies and guidance for those preparing accounts and those assessing those accounts".

It is seeking to bring greater consistency across areas where it can apply discretion, and to align travel rates with legal aid and external benchmarks. The proposed changes are to outlays related to travel and associated expenses, and accommodation and subsistence, which will be brought into line where relevant with rates set for counsel by regulation, with mileage rates being increased to 45p per mile to match the HMRC allowance. The change will not apply in criminal matters regulated by statute.

SLAB also wants to hear views about the overarching accounts assessment policy, and more detailed policies which it is not proposing to change at this stage but where it is "interested in any possible unintended consequences... which impact on the services available for people, including any impacts related to a client's protected characteristics".

As regards submission of accounts, views are sought on "whether and how a revised set of information for accounts assessment, in particular revised legal aid guidance following the criminal legal assistance applications model, would meet your needs for accounts assessment". 

SLAB acknowledges that its abatements process (reducing or disallowing certain items in submitted accounts) is "frustrating" for lawyers, and hopes that the consultation will lead to more clearly stated policies and guidance both for those preparing and for those assessing accounts. While it says it cannot change the feeing system set out in regulations, "by being clearer about what we do, how and why, we hope to smooth the operation of the system for the benefit of the profession and our own staff".

Click here to access the consultation document. The deadline for responses is 5pm on 4 November 2021.