Public’s views sought on legal aid reform

Public's views sought on legal aid reform

Ash Denham

The public is being asked to give their views on how to ensure current legal aid provision meets the needs of modern Scotland.

Ministers say they want to ensure the system is user-focused, flexible and valued as a public service.

A consultation, based on recommendations from an independent review of legal aid and running until 19 September, will consider how the use of targeted interventions could remove the barriers some people may face in accessing legal aid.

The paper also asks whether the availability of funding should be extended to groups with a common interest in legal proceedings, such as Fatal Accident Inquiries.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “Our legal aid provision is world leading, however improvements to its structure and delivery are needed to further support access to justice in modern Scotland.

“We want a legal aid system that that is responsive and places the user firmly at the heart of the service.

“I encourage all those with an interest in this area to make their views known and look forward to a constructive debate on the future of legal aid provision in Scotland.”

Colin Lancaster, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said: “We welcome the Scottish government’s consultation and the opportunities it offers for discussion about the future shape of the legal aid system in Scotland.

“Legally aided services assist people at some of the most difficult times of their lives. This is a chance to consider important principles about how Scotland should deliver these services in the future.”

Responding to the announcement, John Mulholland, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We called for an independent review because of the complexity of the current legal aid system and because the current funding model is unsustainable. Legal aid provides access to justice across Scotland, protecting human rights and helping people during some of the most difficult periods in their lives. This consultation provides the opportunity to examine the system as a whole and create a fairer and simpler system that places users at its heart.

“The consultation recognises the importance of having a network of legal aid firms and practitioners providing help across the country in a wide range of areas of law and with the ability to respond quickly to meet the needs of people in local communities. This network has reduced in recent times and we have seen a drop of 20 per cent in the number of criminal providers registered in just the last five years.

“It’s vital that we work to address this decline. While reducing complexity may be part of the solution, funding remains a challenge. There was a three per cent increase in fees in April, but there had been practically no change during the previous decade, and for significantly longer in relation to some fee levels. While this consultation does not consider these issues, we hope that the current review of the legal aid payment framework will result in a system that will mean solicitors are fairly paid for the important work that they do.”

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