Law Society: Irreparable damage to justice system looms without immediate action on legal aid
The Scottish government’s historic and continued neglect of the Scottish legal aid system will result in people who cannot afford legal advice being denied access to justice, according to a letter from the Law Society of Scotland President to the Scottish government.
Despite the pledge of support by former Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf in November 2020, there has been no firm proposal on fee reforms beyond the five per cent already announced for the spring, an uplift that itself will not keep pace with inflation.
Law Society of Scotland president, Ken Dalling, wrote to the Scottish government’s director of justice, Neil Rennick following recent correspondence and meetings with the Scottish government, Scottish Legal Aid Board and representatives of Scottish Solicitors Bar Association.
Mr Dalling said: “The government is kicking the legal aid can down the road. Our legal aid system is under extraordinary pressure as a result of a generation of underfunding. There has been a huge decline in the number of people working in legal aid and ever escalating demands on those of us who remain. If action is not taken now the impact on the ability of citizens to access justice will be irreparable.”
“There is a clear picture that qualified solicitors are departing the sector for better pay and conditions elsewhere. It is deeply frustrating that despite regular positive engagement with government we are still being asked to provide evidence of this disparity. The Scottish Parliament’s own Criminal Justice Committee recognises the need for immediate investment, so it is hard to see what more the government needs to recognise the problem itself.
“We have made it clear to the government that fee reform must have investment in legal aid at its core and that there must be early progress if we are to continue to engage.”
Mr Dalling’s letter also highlights parallel problems in England and Wales which are the subject of the Bellamy Report and of concerns voiced in the recent report of the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee.