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Legal aid funding to increase

23 May 2008

There is to be an increase in the level of civil legal aid payments, the Scottish Government revealed today.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced at the Law Society of Scotland conference in Edinburgh that the unit used for calculating payments will rise from £19 to £21, with corresponding increases in detailed fees.

There will also be a new scale of payments for complex family law cases, which are underfunded under the present scales.

The Law Society said it welcomed the news - but that more needed to be done to safeguard the future of civil legal aid.

Ranald Lindsay, convener of the Society’s Access to Justice Committee, said: “We are encouraged that the Scottish Government has listened to concerns from the profession and taken them seriously. This rise in the unit level is long overdue – there has been no increase since 2003.

Difficult decisions

“Solicitors are having to make some very difficult decisions as to whether they can afford to continue to provide legal aid services, and it is not a decision which comes easily to those who have gone into this branch of the profession to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.

“While this increase will make a difference, it might not be enough to prevent the growing number of law firms which are unable to continue subsidising this part of their business with other legal business and it might not be sufficient to attract firms back into legal aid to fill the advice deserts already existing in parts of the country.”

The Society carried out research last year into civil legal aid following a motion from the Family Law Association at the Society’s annual general meeting last year.

The research showed that 92% of respondents expect to withdraw from providing the service within four years.

Many high street solicitors across Scotland have said they can no longer afford to provide legal advice to some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people.

Infrastructure crumbling

Mr Lindsay added: “In the past there was a network of firms across the country that was prepared to carry out civil legal aid work but that infrastructure is crumbling and the skills necessary to maintain it are being lost.

“Scotland’s citizens deserve a properly funded, modern and efficient civil justice system. There is no point in having a sophisticated system of law if the ordinary citizen can do nothing to protect the rights that the system has given them.”