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Interim rises in legal aid

1 May 04

Justice Minister has agreed interim rises in some legal aid rates and previews further reforms

Legal aid rates for civil advice and assistance, and criminal legal aid, will get an interim rise next month, pending the report from the Executive’s strategic review of legal aid, Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has promised.

The report, also expected in June, will examine the roles and contribution of all those involved in the delivery of publicly funded legal advice, including a wide range of organisations and agencies apart from solicitors, as well as the role, functions and powers of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

On civil advice and assistance, the Minister intends to introduce “a more fluent structure, improving the services provided, increasing fees payable and reducing unnecessary expenditure”. The Board and the Society have produced proposals for reform and the Executive is looking at these as a part of the strategic review. In the meantime, and in order to reflect the changes introduced last October as a result of civil legal aid reform, the Executive will implement a 5% interim increase in solicitors’ fees for civil advice and assistance, with effect from June 2004.   

“Once we have the report from the strategic review I will look at a more comprehensive package of reform, based on the principle of ensuring that the reward for such work is fair and in line with other parts of the legal aid system”, Jamieson commented. “I want this initiative to move forward quickly, with final decisions being taken in the autumn.”

As for criminal legal aid, which already accounts for 70 per cent of the budget and remains the fastest growing sector, the Minister recognises the principles enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights but wants to ensure these are met in an effective and efficient manner – and that providers of criminal legal aid receive fair reward for their work. Pending the overall restructuring of the present system, she has agreed a 5% increase in fees for meeting with clients and waiting time, and a 15% increase for advocacy, from June 2004.

The Faculty of Advocates has also agreed to streamlining the fee arrangements for counsel in criminal cases allied with an effective quality assurance mechanism. This package should be in place in time for the full implementation of the High Court reforms by early 2005.