Lawyers fear ‘irreparable’ damage without more legal aid investment

The president of the Law Society of Scotland has raised his concerns with the Scottish Government.

Katrine Bussey
Thursday 20 January 2022 13:42
Lawyers fear ‘irreparable’ damage will be done to access to justice without legal aid investment (Jane Barlow/PA)
Lawyers fear ‘irreparable’ damage will be done to access to justice without legal aid investment (Jane Barlow/PA)

Legal aid in Scotland is coming under “extraordinary pressure” with ministers now at risk of causing “irreparable” damage to the system, lawyers have warned.

The Law Society of Scotland fears a “generation of underfunding” will result in people who cannot afford legal representation being denied access to justice.

Society president Ken Dalling has raised concerns with the Scottish Government’s director of justice Neil Rennick following a series of letters and meetings between the Government the Scottish Legal Aid Board and representatives of the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association.

Solicitors in Scotland’s three principal bar associations in Scotland – in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – have carried out boycotts in a bid to force the Scottish Government to invest more money in legal aid.

The Government has agreed a 5% increase in legal aid fees for the current year, with a commitment to a further 5% increase next year.

But the Law Society of Scotland said this is still below the current rate of inflation, which reached 5.4% in the 12 months to December – the highest level for 30 years.

Mr Dalling accused the Scottish Government of “kicking the legal aid can down the road” in the dispute – which has also seen lawyers protest outside the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “Our legal aid system is under extraordinary pressure as a result of a generation of underfunding.

“There has been a huge decline in the number of people working in legal aid and ever escalating demands on those of us who remain.

“If action is not taken now the impact on the ability of citizens to access justice will be irreparable.

“There is a clear picture that qualified solicitors are departing the sector for better pay and conditions elsewhere.

“It is deeply frustrating that despite regular positive engagement with Government we are still being asked to provide evidence of this disparity.

“The Scottish Parliament’s own Criminal Justice Committee recognises the need for immediate investment, so it is hard to see what more the Government needs to recognise the problem itself.

“We have made it clear to the Government that fee reform must have investment in legal aid at its core and that there must be early progress if we are to continue to engage.”

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