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Legal aid tendering in Scotland would "risk damaging access to justice"

1 October 2010

The Law Society of Scotland has welcomed the decision of the High Court in London that dismissed the tendering process used in England & Wales to allocate family legal aid work as "unfair, unlawful and irrational".

Judicial review proceedings were taken by the Law Society of England & Wales against the Legal Services Commission after a tendering process saw the number of firms permitted to provide family legal aid slashed from 2,470 to around 1,350.

This cull of providers entailed that some of the most highly regarded and specialist providers in the country failed to secure contracts, resulting gaps in geographic coverage, and significant reduction in access to justice for local communities, particularly in areas such as domestic abuse and forced marriage.

Oliver Adair, Legal Aid Convener at the Law Society of Scotland said: “The current economic climate presents a huge challenge to maintain access to justice, both north and south of the border.

Difficulties

“Unlike our counterparts in England & Wales, we do not use a tendering system for legal aid. Today’s judgment clearly illustrates that there are fundamental difficulties with tendering for legal aid in any capacity.

“Legal aid is there to help the most vulnerable and deprived in our society. Scotland has a diverse range of practices providing legal aid, from sole practitioners to large firms, which provide a high quality service to local communities, and at value for money to the public purse. While we must always be conscious of ensuring the system is as efficient and cost effective as possible, undercutting justice cannot be an option and we must not deny access to justice to those who need it most.

“The experience in England & Wales has shown us that introducing a tendering system to our jurisdiction would risk damaging access to justice.”

Have your say


Your comment

Sarah Erskine

Saturday October 2, 2010, 09:01

I am very relieved to see the comments above from the Law Society of Scotland and I very much welcome your position which must be right for a relatively small population with several large urban areas but with many remote communities. I am a partner in a firm working in all areas of family law in Scotland however I am the only solicitor in my firm doing a lot of legal aid work. My work is in the area of domestic violence. If we had to tender for legal aid I find it difficult to see how I could continue my work.

I have not read all the news articles on this mail and am sure that you will have something on forced marriages - but just in case - that was in the news this week too!


Prof Allan Jamieson

Friday October 8, 2010, 18:18

Interesting. Will the same principle now be applied to the system of "competitive quotes" applied to experts' fees by SLAB? My experience is that it is almost impossible to compare like with like. Surely the solicitor is the person best placed to choose the right expert. Why does the same constraint not apply to the Crown's forensic science - owned and operated by the police?