Implementing a new, evidence-based review system must be a priority as part of plans to modernise Scotland’s legal aid system.
The Scottish Government’s response today, 29 November, to the Independent Review of Legal Aid in Scotland chaired by Martyn Evans, sets out a number of proposals for change including a 3% rise across all legal aid rates and independent fee reviews.
Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The government has set out a number of constructive proposals for change over the short and longer term. A top priority must be simplifying what is a highly complex and confusing legal aid system both for the legal profession and members of the public.
“I am very pleased to see the Minister’s commitment to a 3% increase in both civil and criminal legal aid rates. The current low rates of pay risk discouraging solicitors from carrying out legal aid work, leaving some of the most vulnerable in society unable to get the expert legal help they need and deserve. I am glad those arguments have been listened to and responded to by the Minister.
“However, this rise on its own will not solve the problems we are seeing in the system. That is why the implementation of a new, evidence-based review system must also remain a priority. This is vital to ensure there are fair and sustainable fees for solicitors who carry out this important work in the long term. We welcome the government’s commitment to moving forward with this and will look forward to discussions taking place as soon as possible.”
The government’s report follows publication of Rethinking Legal Aid, An Independent Strategic Review, in February 2018. Further recommendations include:
- Maintaining the scope of legal aid
- Developing an effective delivery model, which includes private practice solicitors alongside charities and law centres.
- Investment in service improvement and technological innovation
- Establishing effective oversight
Alison Atack said: “Solicitors provide life-changing assistance for people during some of the most difficult periods in their lives, such as resolving a housing dispute like unlawful eviction, a family matter involving child custody or for someone who is defending a criminal charge. Much of this work is unseen by the wider public and it’s encouraging to see that the value of legal aid and the work of solicitors has been recognised in the report.
“It’s essential that we have a legal aid system that ensures people across Scotland can access the legal advice they need, regardless of their financial situation or status in society, to resolve their legal issues, and that solicitors are fairly paid for the work they do in our communities across the country.
“We will continue to engage with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Legal Aid Board and other stakeholders on reforms necessary to ensuring that Scotland has a legal system we can be proud of and that works effectively for all those who depend upon it.
“We will look forward to seeing further detail on the Scottish Government’s recommendations.”