Supporting practitioners impacted by COVID-19.
A coronavirus (COVID-19) resilience fund for legal aid firms and law centres, worth up to £9 million, has opened for applications.
The Coronavirus Resilience and Recovery Fund for Legal Aid has been created to provide financial support to enable legal aid services to the public to continue - assisting those practitioners that have had a reduction in legal aid business levels because of the restrictions in place.
The resilience fund forms part of a wider Scottish Government package of support for the legal aid sector worth up to £20 million. Regulations increasing fees, worth up to £10 million, were laid in Parliament at the beginning of February, and £1 million has been committed towards supporting traineeships.
The fund is open to any legal firms whose turnover is usually at least 20% derived from legal aid payments, and who have experienced a drop in projected income from new legal aid business, once any other form of COVID-related government support is taken into account.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“Scotland’s legal profession has worked extremely hard since the COVID-19 outbreak to help maintain access to justice services. I’m pleased we are in a position to provide this significant financial backing to those in the legal aid sector facing financial difficulties.
“This fund and the overall package of support we are providing is helping address the financial challenges faced by some in the sector as a result of the pandemic.
“We recognise the important contribution legal aid makes towards tackling inequalities across Scotland – helping vulnerable people deal with issues such as debt, housing, and mental health, as well as providing a defence against criminal charges. It is to society’s benefit that Scotland has a strong legal aid system, ensuring that an individual’s rights are protected while supporting the rule of law.”
President of the Law Society of Scotland Amanda Millar said:
“We are pleased to see the launch of the £9 million COVID resilience fund for legal aid firms which have suffered most from a loss of business over the last year.
“The legal aid sector was already under significant pressure, even before COVID hit. The sudden drop in court cases because of the pandemic meant many legal aid firms could have been lost, risking an access to justice crisis for many of the most vulnerable in our society. I am pleased the Cabinet Secretary responded so positively to our call for action and came forward with a substantial £20 million support package, including this COVID resilience fund.
“It is now important that all legal aid firms look closely at the fund criteria and make an application if they believe they are eligible.”
Chair of the Scottish Association of Law Centres Angus McIntosh said:
“The Scottish Association of Law Centres welcomes the introduction of the Scottish Legal Aid Coronavirus Resilience Fund. Law Centre and Legal Aid solicitors are key workers providing an essential service during the pandemic for vulnerable people – whether defending clients in court or preventing destitution for appellants at benefit tribunals.
“The current emergency has reduced Legal Aid payments for many solicitors resulting in a financial crisis for many practices. The new fund is a lifeline which will help many of us to continue to operate and provide essential services in very difficult circumstances.”
The deadline for applications to the fund is 31 March 2021.
Information on how to apply to the Resilience and Recovery Fund for Legal Aid
The Scottish Government has worked closely with the legal profession from the outset of the pandemic and has:
• committed to make changes to solemn criminal fees that will have a positive financial impact on solicitors;
• committed to discuss further potential changes to summary and civil fees, once revised practice guidance is in place;
• put in place a scheme where fees can be paid throughout the duration of a case, rather than at the end;
• offered to extend that to a scheme of advance payments which would effectively pay for work before it was done;
• offered to consider grant funding within the landscape of responsible use of public funds;
• provided £15 million additional funding to the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to restore and enhance the capacity of the courts to progress business;
The planned 10% increase in fees over the next two financial years follows an increase of 3% applied to all legal aid fees in 2019 – meaning the Scottish Government has committed to provide an overall 8.2% increase over two years and 13.6% over three years.