In addition to identifying the benefits for individuals who directly receive legal aid, which include positive family relationships, better job prospects and better mental health, the research considers the impact on tax-payers and wider society, and highlights a positive financial impact for the NHS, local authorities and prisons.
Independent research and consultancy company Rocket Science was commissioned by the Law Society of Scotland to carry out an assessment of the social return on investment (SROI) of legal aid in criminal, housing and family law cases earlier this year.
They found that for every £1 spent on legal aid in each of these areas, the overall benefit gained by the person receiving legal aid and wider society was valued in many cases, as substantially more than £1.
The research findings come at an important time and will be shared with the current independent review of legal aid commissioned by the Scottish government.
Legal aid can help meet the costs of legal advice, family mediation and representation in a court or tribunal for people who can’t afford to pay legal costs. It helps to ensure that people are not evicted from their homes, avoiding the knock-on costs of homelessness, and helps to resolve family issues and disputes, such as relationship breakdown or child custody.
The study also looked at criminal cases and the benefits of ensuring people are properly advised and represented if charged with an offence.
Key research findings:
- In housing cases, such as evictions due to rent or mortgage arrears, spending £1 on legal aid can generate a beneficial return of approximately £11 for both recipient and wider society.
- 80 per cent of the legal aid spent in a case benefits the direct recipient due to fewer evictions and cases of homelessness.
- 20 per cent of the legal aid spent in a case benefits public services including the NHS and local authorities with reduced demand for health and social services.
- For every £1 spent on legal aid in family cases, which include issues regarding finances, child contact or residence following divorce or separation, there is a beneficial return of approximately £5.
- 95 per cent benefits the recipient in helping to ensure access to justice, with people not having to represent themselves in court.
- Five per cent benefits public services, including the justice system, with more cases resolved outwith the court.
- For every £1 spent on legal aid in criminal law cases, there is a beneficial return of approximately £5.
- 90 per cent benefits the recipient with the main benefit being securing professional representation from a solicitor in legal proceedings.
- 10 per cent benefits public services including the Scottish justice system, courts and prison service due to earlier resolution of cases.
“Our research shows that each and every one of us in Scotland benefits from legal aid, not just the people who receive it and for every £1 spent there is a bigger return in benefits. Investing in legal aid to resolve legal issues before they evolve into situations that are even more complex and costly to sort out, helps relieve the pressure and financial burden on our public services such as the NHS and local authorities.
“Yes there continues to be pressure in public spending and yes, there are difficult decisions to be made. There is however, an overwhelming case to be made for the significant long-term benefits of having a properly resourced legal aid system which ensures access to justice for all, regardless of where they live or their financial situation.
“It is why we continue to be extremely concerned at the cuts in legal aid spending in Scotland. There has been another drop this year – with less spent now than 20 years ago.
“The benefits to Scotland’s health, wealth and happiness are clear and the research findings strengthen the argument that investing in legal aid not only helps ensure access to justice for those who need it, it also makes good economic sense for Scotland’s people.”