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Scottish Government launches consultation on reform of legal aid

Scottish Government launches consultation on reform of legal aid

Ash Denham - Image credit: Holyrood

The Scottish Government launched a consultation on reform of legal aid in Scotland.

The consultation follows a review of the current system by Martyn Evans, which was published in 2018.

The focus of the consultation is on how the legal aid system serves the public.

Following the recommendations of the Evans review, ministers want to ensure the system is user-focused, flexible to adapt to user need and regarded as a public service.

The paper looks at how access to legal aid could be improved to make it more flexible and reduce complexity, as well as whether the scope should be widened to include groups with an interest in legal proceedings such as fatal accident inquiries.

However, it does not tackle the issue of funding, which has seen many lawyers withdraw from covering legal aid work in recent years.

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “Our legal aid provision is world leading, however improvements to its structure and delivery are needed to further support access to justice in modern Scotland.

“We want a legal aid system that that is responsive and places the user firmly at the heart of the service.

“I encourage all those with an interest in this area to make their views known and look forward to a constructive debate on the future of legal aid provision in Scotland.”

Colin Lancaster, chief executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s consultation and the opportunities it offers for discussion about the future shape of the legal aid system in Scotland.

“Legally aided services assist people at some of the most difficult times of their lives.

“This is a chance to consider important principles about how Scotland should deliver these services in the future.”

John Mulholland, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We called for an independent review because of the complexity of the current legal aid system and because the current funding model is unsustainable.

“Legal aid provides access to justice across Scotland, protecting human rights and helping people during some of the most difficult periods in their lives.

“This consultation provides the opportunity to examine the system as a whole and create a fairer and simpler system that places users at its heart.

“The consultation recognises the importance of having a network of legal aid firms and practitioners providing help across the country in a wide range of areas of law and with the ability to respond quickly to meet the needs of people in local communities.

“This network has reduced in recent times and we have seen a drop of 20 per cent in the number of criminal providers registered in just the last five years.

“It’s vital that we work to address this decline.

“While reducing complexity may be part of the solution, funding remains a challenge.

There was a three per cent increase in fees in April, but there had been practically no change during the previous decade, and for significantly longer in relation to some fee levels.

“While this consultation does not consider these issues, we hope that the current review of the legal aid payment framework will result in a system that will mean solicitors are fairly paid for the important work that they do.”

The consultation will run until 19 September 2019.

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