Responding to the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget for 2016-17, announced yesterday, Christine McLintock, president of the Law Society of Scotland, made the following statement to legal aid practitioners:

“The 2016-17 budget allocation for the legal aid fund has been set at £126.1 million, the lowest it has been for well over a decade. This is a reduction from the 2015-16 budget of over 7% (from £136.1 million to £126.1 million).

“Legal aid spending is demand led and not limited by the budget and so we would expect the Scottish Government to continue to meet all its obligations in terms of demand for legal aid over the coming year. However, as you are aware, through its savings initiatives, the Government tries to reduce expenditure to meet the budget allocation.

“The Scottish Government has set the financial target for 2016-17 at a level that:

  • Is lower, in cash terms, than levels of legal aid expenditure from over 20 years ago (in 1994/95 the total expenditure on legal assistance was £132.1 million).
  • Is clearly unrealistic if you are trying to maintain an effective and sustainable legal aid system. Given existing figures, in order to reach its target, the Government would need to cut expenditure by at least £10 million by 2016-17. We do not see how this can possibly be achieved without seriously damaging both access to justice and the justice system.

“The Government has already made significant savings over the years and already achieves very good value for money in terms of our legal aid system.  It has made savings, both in real terms and in cash terms. Further reductions are likely to be damaging to those who need legal help.

“Legal aid delivers a vital service up and down the country to people with legal issues and it can deliver life changing assistance to people in need. It is designed to help individuals on low and modest incomes gain access to legal advice, assistance and representation. We also know that investment in legal aid makes good economic sense – spending on legal aid and ensuring people have access to quality advice at an early stage can and does save money in other areas of government spending.

“We have already been invited to discussions with the Scottish Government just after the New Year.  We will certainly be taking up that offer to argue strongly in favour of investment in legal aid.  We will also use our legal aid policy paper which we published last year and sets out a range of constructive suggestions to make the legal aid system simpler and more efficient.

“That is why we do not support the Government’s drive to reduce legal aid and will be writing to all political parties about these issues. We will be back in touch with details of how you can help us campaign in advance of the Scottish elections.  In the meantime, we would encourage you to contact your MSP as a matter of urgency about this issue.”

ENDS                                                                          17 December 2015

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION: Journalists can contact Sarah Sutton or Val McEwan