Law Society withdraws from legal aid talks with Scottish government

Law Society withdraws from legal aid talks with Scottish government

The Law Society of Scotland is to withdraw from discussions on the creation of a review mechanism for legal aid fees, stating it had “lost confidence” in the Scottish government project following a lack of progress in two years.

The Legal Aid Remuneration Project and Research Analysis Group were set up in 2022 to seek a long-term solution to the way legal aid is funded in Scotland. However since then the government’s undertaking to carry out research, with a view to establishing a fee review mechanism, has stalled.

The Law Society has this week learned that while the project was set up to identify a mechanism for regular reviews, there would be no guarantee that these would result in any fee increase even if recommended, leading to it opting to withdraw. The Society’s Legal Aid Committee has now written to the minister for victims, saying it would only rejoin if the government was prepared to deliver an across-the-board increase in fees, and had assurances that recommendations from any agreed fee review mechanism would be acted on.

Legal Aid Committee co-convener, Ian Moir, said: “It is extremely regrettable to have to take this step.

“We have participated fully and with good faith in this project, however without a commitment from the government on next steps and assurances of a proper review system and, crucially, the funding that is so desperately needed, we have lost confidence in any positive outcome. No tangible progress has been made since the group was set up two years ago and, in the meantime, the legal aid system crumbles away for lack of action.”

Pat Thom, co-convener of the committee, said: “We know many solicitors are ceasing legal aid funded work because rates of pay offered by the Scottish Government fail to provide the financial return necessary to justify the work involved, with many of our members who undertake legal aid funded work feeling overworked and undervalued.

“Our concern throughout has been for those who rely most on criminal, civil and children’s legal aid. With fewer and fewer solicitors prepared to undertake legal aid work, it is the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society who risk losing their access to justice.

“The point of this project was to find a way to stop the ad hoc approach to funding this critical sector and we are urging the Scottish Government to act now to resolve the deepening legal aid crisis.”

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