Inflation-adjusted figures show extent of legal aid cuts

Inflation-adjusted figures show extent of legal aid cuts

Public spending on legal aid has dropped by £85 million over two decades, the Herald on Sunday reports.

In 2007/8 the figure was £155 million while in 2019/20 it had fallen to £130.85m, a drop of £85m when accounting for inflation. Gross spending has declined by a further 23 per cent over the course of the pandemic.

Citizens Advice Scotland found that demand for legal services increased by 32 per cent between August 2020 and August 2021.

Glasgow Bar Association (GBA) president Fiona McKinnon told ministers she is unaware of another profession in which “chronic” underfunding would be allowed to continue where those professionals work for the public benefit.

She said: “We no longer have equality of arms and legal aid provision is in crisis. Legal aid provides access to justice to people across Scotland and it is a significant concern that the number of registered providers has dramatically declined, particularly for criminal legal aid firms.

“We know that members are leaving the field of legal aid provision as a consequence of the impact of lockdown, further exacerbated by the Crown recruitment drive arising from the resolution of a pay dispute, sometimes doubling their salary, with a pension and better terms and conditions. There are relatively small numbers of civil legal aid firms causing advice deserts across Scotland.”

The GBA calculated that, as of December last year, the current payment of the fixed fee was £499.85, even after a three per cent increase that followed an earlier reduction. Accounting for inflation, £500 in 1999 should have been worth £873.03 in 2019. Figures seen by the newspaper indicate this is reflected in the spending on criminal legal aid cases – which has fallen from £79.7m in 1999/20 to £75.9m in 2019/20.

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We have acknowledged the important role of criminal defence solicitors.

“We have committed to consider other issues raised by the profession, including with reference to public holidays. A package of specific funding has been developed in consultation with the profession to support the contribution of the legal profession during the forthcoming COP26 conference.”

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