Legal aid: Scottish government forced to make offer to practitioners
Legal affairs minister Ash Regan has made what she claims is a “substantial and credible offer” of support to legal aid practitioners amid a bizarre claim that Scotland has “finest legal aid system in the world”.
A “robust” package of support was set out by Ms Regan in a letter to the sector on Friday.
It sets out:
- A package of funding worth £11m. This is equivalent to an 10.3 per cent increase in solicitors’ fees, on top of the £10m increase already introduced, and would bring the total recurring increase to legal fees since 2019 to over 25.2 per cent
- Extension of a legal traineeship scheme for a further two years at a cost of an additional £1m
- A framework for agreeing regular, evidence-based, fee reviews that directly addresses issues raised by the legal profession as priorities
Ms Regan said: “This is a substantial and credible offer following extensive engagement with the sector and I’d urge lawyers to accept it.
“Our aim always has been to find a settlement that responds to the concerns raised by members of the profession and builds on the increases to fees already introduced over the past three years.
“We also have to find an agreement that is affordable in the context of public finances and supports the on-going process of justice recovery and transformation.
“The offer has been made in the context of a very challenging financial position and that is why I must emphasise there is no scope for further immediate increases beyond this offer. Additionally I have asked for a cessation of planned disruptive action which has the potential to be damaging to witnesses and complainers.
“Scotland has the finest legal aid system in the world and this credible and robust package will support vitally important criminal defence work as the justice sector continues its recovery from the Covid period.”
Law Society of Scotland president Murray Etherington said: “A generation of underfunding in legal aid has left a system in crisis. This failure to act has meant record numbers of solicitors are leaving criminal defence and areas of civil law, simply because it is unaffordable to do legal aid funded work. It means some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society risk going without the legal advice and services they need, all because the government has refused to invest the money required.
“This latest announcement from the Scottish government may recognise a serious problem to be solved. However, it falls far short of the investment we have argued for and which we believe is necessary to retain solicitors in the legal aid system to ensure access to justice for all.”