News In Focus
Fear over cuts to legal aid
Research commissioned by The Law Society of Scotland has shown that four out of every five people fear cuts to legal aid will hit the poorest people in society.
The independent research, commissioned by the Society and carried out by polling organisation Ipsos MORI, shows huge support for legal aid and a strong recognition of the vital role it plays in the justice system.
However, the poll also highlighted the large majority of people who believe cuts to legal aid risk impacting the poorest within communities.
The research has been published weeks before an expected Scottish Government consultation on the possible introduction of contracting in criminal legal aid and an aim to save a further £3 million from the legal aid budget. Ministers have made a budget provision for legal aid expenditure for 2014-15 of £132.1 million, the exact same level as that spent in 1994-95.
The research from Ipsos MORI found that:
- 81% believe legal aid is a price worth paying to ensure we have a fair society, regardless of cost
- Only 10% believe legal aid is a waste of money
- 83% believe the poorest in society will be most affected by Scottish Government cuts to legal aid.
The convener of the Society’s legal aid committee Ian Moir said: “This research shows huge public support for maintaining a properly funded system of legal aid. It also highlights the deep and widespread concern that cuts risk harming the very people which the legal aid system was designed to help and support.
“Legal aid is central to the values of our justice system. It exists to ensure access to justice is not dependent on your status or how much you earn. It also maintains the basic right to a fair trial, a right that is critical to any society which chooses to describe itself as fair or democratic. We cannot take legal aid for granted.
“However, we know that legal aid is under pressure like never before. Whilst it is important to recognise the strain on public budgets, it would be wrong to look at legal aid as a soft or easy target for further cuts. You also cannot ignore the significant reforms over recent years which have delivered a range of savings to legal aid here in Scotland.
“We know further reforms are in the pipeline, reforms which aim to deliver additional substantial savings. We will work constructively with the Scottish Government but equally we will fight strongly to ensure the fundamentals of our legal aid system are preserved.”