Law Society: Urgent need to reform legal aid system in ‘deep crisis’

Law Society: Urgent need to reform legal aid system in 'deep crisis'

Sheila Webster

Scotland’s legal aid system is in “deep crisis” and requires urgent reform, the Law Society of Scotland has said following the publication of figures showing a 14 per cent increase in legal aid spend in the past year.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) yesterday published its annual report showing costs rose to £135 million in 2022/23, in part due to increases in fees paid to solicitors and advocates.

SLAB CEO Colin Lancaster said the scheme requires reform through primary legislation and warned that “remuneration is not the only issue worthy of attention, and nor is it the root cause of or solution to every other issue”.

Commenting on the report, Sheila Webster, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “The Scottish Legal Aid Board is right to say that reform of the current system is essential.

“We believe reform is long overdue for this vital service which helps ensure that people across Scotland, including some of the most vulnerable in our society, can access the legal support and advice they need.

“The increased spend reported in SLAB’s annual report, in part due to the increase in cases going through the courts following the disruption caused by the pandemic, doesn’t alter the fact that legal aid in Scotland remains in deep crisis, with solicitors leaving in droves and access to justice being eroded.

“Recent increases in fee rates have been a much-needed step in the right direction but remain well short of what is needed to end decades of decline.

“We urgently need a solution. Legal aid is a fundamental part of our justice system and we continue to urge the government to progress plans for a formal review mechanism to ensure its long term sustainability.”

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