The Scottish Government has published a consultation on legal aid reform in Scotland. The public is being asked to give their views on how to ensure current provisions meet the needs of modern Scotland and to ensure a system that is user-focused, flexible and valued as a public service.
The consultation, based on recommendations from an independent review will run until 19 September and will consider how the use of targeted interventions could remove the barriers some people may face in accessing legal aid.
The consultation also asks whether the availability of funding should be extended to groups with a common interest in legal proceedings, such as Fatal Accident Inquiries.
Responding to the announcement, John Mulholland, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said,
“We called for an independent review because of the complexity of the current legal aid system and because the current funding model is unsustainable. Legal aid provides access to justice across Scotland, protecting human rights and helping people during some of the most difficult periods in their lives. This consultation provides the opportunity to examine the system as a whole and create a fairer and simpler system that places users at its heart.
“The consultation recognises the importance of having a network of legal aid firms and practitioners providing help across the country in a wide range of areas of law and with the ability to respond quickly to meet the needs of people in local communities. This network has reduced in recent times and we have seen a drop of 20% in the number of criminal providers registered in just the last five years.
“It’s vital that we work to address this decline. While reducing complexity may be part of the solution, funding remains a challenge. There was a 3% increase in fees in April, but there had been practically no change during the previous decade, and for significantly longer in relation to some fee levels. While this consultation does not consider these issues, we hope that the current review of the legal aid payment framework will result in a system that will mean solicitors are fairly paid for the important work that they do.