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Legal aid rates mean "imbalance" in service levels: SLCC
Low legal aid rates are leading to an increasing imbalance in levels of service for solicitors' clients on legal aid compared with those who pay their own way, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission said today.
Welcoming the announcement of an independent review of legal aid, made by the Scottish Government this week (click here for report), the SLCC said that while it received few complaints from legally aided clients, there was a risk of an impact on client care and therefore the number of complaints.
"The [review] panel brings together significant expertise from academic, provider and user perspectives, and will have an important role in examining evidence and possible changes in relation to this vital element of access to justice, one which underpins a fair society", the SLCC commented.
"Thousands of clients a year benefit from legal aid funded advice, and we recognise very few of these interactions lead to problems. However, we are aware of an imbalance which we increasingly see in terms of the level of service which legally-aided clients receive in comparison to fee-paying clients. Where fees paid to solicitors remain low, understandably client care may be impacted and this, in turn, can result in increased service complaints.
"As the gateway for all legal complaints in Scotland, and with experience of over 8,000 cases, we hope to be able to contribute in a small way to this review. Three top areas of complaint (family, civil litigation, and criminal) overlap with legal aid, and 43% of all complaints involve poor communication. As we mentioned previously in our guide on family law for consumers, we are aware that in legally aided cases, work that doesn’t progress cases (such as updating a client as to ‘no progress’) will not necessarily be covered by legal aid funding."
It hoped that by providing evidence of issues in these areas it might assist discussion of how new models may help avoid them arising.