News In Focus
Civil legal aid threshold to be extended
The upper disposable income threshold for financial assistance for civil legal aid is to be increased from £10,306 to £25,000, it was announced today.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said that this should make more than a million additional Scots potentially eligible for financial help towards court costs for civil actions.
Speaking at the two-day joint Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB)/Law Society of Scotland annual conference on legal aid at the Dunblane Hydro, Mr MacAskill said the Government was working with SLAB to bring forward simplified and increased fees for civil legal practitioners alongside the improved eligibility rules.
The number of cases funded by civil legal aid has dropped by around 45% in the last 10 years as fewer people have qualified, and legal firms have given up taking on legally aided cases due to poor rates of pay. Legal aid is means-tested on the applicant's disposable income (including deductions for maintenance payments and childcare or travel costs associated with work as well as an allowance for the costs of providing for dependants) and capital assets (including savings and investments but not their home).
The proposed changes would maintain the two existing scales with a tapered system of contribution for those with disposable incomes between £10,306 and £25,000 so that those with higher earnings would pay a higher rate of contribution.
Mr MacAskill said: "From next spring, the upper limit for disposable income will increase to £25,000 which should mean that around three quarters of the adult population will be potentially eligible for legal aid. For the first time in many a year, legal aid is being rolled out, not rolled back."
The Law Society of Scotland, while welcoming the announcement, added a cautionary note.
Oliver Adair, convener of the Society's legal aid committee, said: "The Law Society of Scotland supports any initiative which extends access to justice.
“However, we would like to see more details of the financial eligibility, in particular the contribution levels people will have to pay, to evaluate how the changes outlined in today's announcement will help more people access legal aid."