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Widening access to justice in Scotland

We want to provide a justice system that is fair and equitable for everyone in Scotland.

Widening access to justice includes improving information and advice services, giving people greater options to resolve disputes without court action wherever possible, having a flourishing legal services market and, where necessary, providing legal aid for court proceedings.


We are widening access to justice by:

  • encouraging the use of resolution services such as mediation and arbitration which can be cheaper and less time consuming than going to court
  • reforming the system of legal aid so that it focuses on those who need it most
  • simplifying Scotland’s tribunals system to ensure it is user-friendly and independent
  • working to introduce alternative business structures in the legal services market to improve customer choice
  • using IT innovation to improve data management, ensuring that people working in the justice system can access the right information at the right time, benefiting the people who rely on the system
  • making sure advice and information is available and accessible and of high quality, to ensure people can avoid problems or resolve disputes as quickly as possible


A 2009 report into Scotland’s civil courts, conducted by Lord Gill, emphasised the need to raise people’s awareness and understanding of alternatives to court and the potential, through the use of technology, to improve the management of information and therefore improve access to justice.

In 2011, we set out plans for the future of legal aid in A Sustainable Future for Legal Aid

Widening access to justice is a key part of our Making Justice Work programme which aims to ensure that Scotland’s justice system is fair and accessible, cost-effective and efficient and that it resolves disputes and prosecutions quickly, securing just outcomes. As part of Making Justice Work programme the Scottish Legal Aid Board has carried out some research into Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The Strategy for Justice in Scotland sets out our approach to make the Scottish justice system fit for the 21st century.

Who we are working with

We work with partners across the justice system, including the Crown Office, Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Court Service, Scottish Legal Aid Board, Law Society of Scotland, Faculty of Advocates, Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and the police.

We are also working with consumer groups and the Office of Fair Trading on alternative business structures and the legal complaints process.

Bills and legislation

The Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 is the main piece of legislation concerning legal aid in Scotland. In recent years, that Act has been amended in order to reform legal aid, for example, criminal legal aid reforms as set out in the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Act 2013 and the framework for legal aid in the children’s hearing system as set out in the Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011. There are also various regulations linked to this legislation which provide specific details about how different types of legal aid work for different types of proceedings.

The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 contains provisions relating to legal services including regulating the supply of legal services by alternative business structures.

The Legal Profession and Legal Aid Scotland Act 2007 aims to broaden access to legal services by allowing the creation of new business structures providing legal advice and services for clients, in addition to existing solicitor practices.

How Scotland is performing

Scotland Performs measures and reports on the progress of government in Scotland. The National Outcomes describe what we want to achieve over the next 10 years.

National Outcome: Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people’s needs

Justice Outcomes