Scottish government’s legal aid package not a ‘product of agreement’

Scottish government's legal aid package not a 'product of agreement'

Julia McPartlin

The legal aid package announced by the Scottish government is not a “product of agreement”, contrary to ministers’ suggestion that it is, the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association (SSBA) has told SLN.

Last week the government announced that solicitor groups had “agreed to an £11 million package” that increases fees for legal aid lawyers in Scotland and supports the country’s court recovery programme.

President of the SSBA, Julia McPartlin, said, however, that the government had mischaracterised the decision as an agreement and that it was not a case of “accepting or declining”.

She said that the government had sought concessions from the SSBA before laying legal aid reforms before Holyrood and that “we’d agreed to some concessions” – but that the SSBA had not endorsed the package.

The SSBA did so “mainly on the basis that if we didn’t, the little increase that they were offering was going to be delayed even further” and for which they had “already been waiting at least a year”.

The main concession was an agreement that faculties that had boycotted the duty scheme would return as the reforms included a reinstatement of the full fee.

In contrast, the Scottish government’s fee reforms do not address complicated cases that do not fit with the fixed fee structure such as those where a contravention of section one of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 is alleged.

Ms McPartlin told SLN: “It was suggested to us that we could go back to the drawing board with regard to complicated cases but that it would delay the implementation of what little increase we were getting.”

She added: “Our view is that we didn’t have an awful lot of choice here and that something was better than nothing.

“We would say that the package isn’t really going to address the fundamental issues, which is the recruitment and retention of new staff in the legal system.

“The fact that there’s any cessation of some of the action that we’re taking is a recognition that this might be the best that we can get in this climate – particularly with the cost of living crisis.”

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