Law Society: Proposed legal aid fee increase marks progress but more action needed

Law Society: Proposed legal aid fee increase marks progress but more action needed

A proposed rise in legal aid fees is a step in the right direction, but further action is urgently needed to resolve the long-term crisis in the sector, the Law Society of Scotland has said.

Following discussions with the Law Society, the Scottish government has proposed an £11 million increase in spend across both criminal and civil legal aid fees for solicitors.

The society has said while the proposals do not resolve all of the long-term, deep-rooted problems in legal aid, it is a step towards addressing some of its concerns, including the need to reverse the acute reduction in the number of solicitors currently able to offer civil, children’s and criminal legal aid.

In addition to increasing legal aid fees, the Law Society has stated that a robust fee review system will be essential to ensure the long-term sustainability of the legal aid sector and ensuring access to justice.

Murray Etherington, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “While this brings much needed progress, after more than two decades of chronic underfunding, the government’s proposed increase does not fully resolve the deep-rooted issues in the legal aid sector.

“Access to legal services is a key part of living in a fair and just society. However across Scotland, the network of legal aid support is diminishing, while the demand for help is increasing.

“In many areas, including some of the poorest parts of the country, people are unable to access a legal aid solicitor. That means that some people cannot access the legal advice or representation they need and can be severely disadvantaged as a result, for example if they have been unfairly dismissed from work or are going through a complex family matter.

“We are keen to see the proposed increase implemented as quickly as possible. We will continue to press for regular fee reviews to replace the current ad hoc approach, to ensure that the decades of underfunding for legal aid is brought to an end. Having a system of regular reviews would help to revitalise the legal aid sector and ensure that everyone, regardless of their background or financial status, can seek the legal advice they need to uphold their rights.”

In a letter to the Scottish government, the Law Society has said that it remains concerned that the criminal fee reforms may not deliver the increases equivalent to those proposed for civil and children’s legal aid.

It has also called for a review to take place 12 months following implementation to fully assess if the reforms have effectively addressed the crisis in legal aid provision, and identify additional action that may be required.

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