News In Focus
Lafferty reaffirms legal aid importance
5 October 2012
The Law Society of Scotland recognises the "immense" challenges facing legal aid practitioners and it is a key objective to support them and protect the legal aid budget, according to the President, Austin Lafferty.
In his address to the Society's annual Legal Aid Conference, held jointly with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, which takes place in Dunblane today and tomorrow, Mr Lafferty told the legal aid lawyers present that the effect of their work extended far beyond the individual they were representing. "By enabling people to access lawyers, the legal aid system keeps the wheels of justice turning and helps to maintain trust and confidence in the justice system", he said.
“It is perhaps the reason why our members – even those working outwith legal aid work – tell us that protecting the legal aid budget and supporting legal aid practitioners should be one of the Law Society’s key objectives."
Mr Lafferty said the Society took that responsibility very seriously. "As we look to the future, the challenges for legal aid solicitors are immense – the imminent introduction of financial contributions in criminal legal aid and how they are collected from the individuals accused of crimes is a concern for solicitors.
“We welcomed the Justice Committee’s comments yesterday about the collection of contributions, and members from all parties on the committee have recognised our concerns over this.
“Also the introduction of contracting as early as next spring, and the consequences of how that might work, brings uncertainty."
He added: “The Scottish Government’s budget cuts to legal aid add significant pressure to solicitors working at the coal face. However the Society is committed to robustly supporting our members and working with the Government and Scottish Legal Aid Board to ensure that the legal aid system is more effective , more streamlined and more accessible.”
Speaking ahead of the conference, Lindsay Montgomery, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said: “Given the constraints on public finances, it is essential that the Board, the legal profession, justice sector partners and the Scottish Government work together to meet the challenges ahead and ensure that access to justice is maintained.
“This important event is an opportunity to consider the changes taking place in the justice sector, as well as looking at important issues relating to legal aid.”
Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, will also address the conference.