Covid-19: Free legal advice to meet surge in legal issues
Students are to be called in to handle an anticipated surge in coronavirus-related legal issues under plans being drawn up by the Law Society of Scotland, The Times reports.
Data from Police Scotland show a nine per cent increase in domestic abuse cases three months after lockdown measures were introduced, promoting a rise in demand for legal advice. This is also true of employment advice, which is expected to rise even further when the UK government’s furlough scheme comes to an end.
Jim Stephenson of the Law Society of Scotland’s Access to Justice Committee said the solicitors’ body had met representatives of the university law clinics as well as Citizens Advice Scotland to consider ways of filling the advice gap.
Mr Stephenson said: “It became apparent during the pandemic that the areas of concern were employment, debt and benefits. A lot of employment law stuff came through, and while evictions have been halted, the problem hasn’t gone away.”
He added: “The central belt has universities and Citizens Advice bureaux, but we’re worried about areas like the Highlands. What we’re trying to do is get law students interested so they could go to their home locations and provide the skills there.”
Rebecca Samaras, director of pro bono at Edinburgh Law School and leader of the Scottish University Law Clinic Network, warned that while moving advice services online increases their reach, doing so also risks excluding groups unable to access technology.
She said: “Going online means we can reach a wide number of clients in different areas. We’re not limited to Edinburgh and the Lothians, and while family law is something we offer advice in, other universities don’t.
“If we all have our specialities we’ll be able to advise better and quicker. It does affect access to justice, though, because some clients, particularly elderly ones, don’t have access to technology.”