Funding of up to £20 million available for solicitors.
Legal aid solicitors will benefit from a 10% uplift in legal aid fees and have access to a £9 million fund to help those experiencing hardship as a result of COVID-19.
Following meetings with the Law Society of Scotland, the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf confirmed a package of further support made up of:
- a 10% uplift in fees to be delivered over the next two financial years
- a resilience fund of up to £9 million of grants available to support legal aid solicitors and Law Centres who have had a loss of legal aid income due to Covid and
- reform of fees for criminal summary and solemn business including an enhanced fee for appropriate guilty pleas in solemn cases
Alongside the existing offer of up to £1 million to fund up to 40 trainees in legal aid firms, it means the total package of Scottish Government support for the legal aid sector will be up to £20 million.
Mr Yousaf said:
“Scotland’s legal profession has worked hard since the COVID-19 outbreak to help maintain access to justice services so I’m pleased to be able to confirm this significant additional support for the sector.
“The Scottish Government has worked closely with the profession from the outset of the pandemic and we have had constructive meetings with the Law Society to discuss the support available to them, helping us to identify ways we can offer further support.
“This significant package of support will offer grants to legal aid providers to help address financial hardship faced by some in the sector as a result of the pandemic and will continue to provide additional support over the coming years as the justice system responds to the impact of COVID-19. Despite the constraints of more than a decade of UK austerity, the package includes the biggest overall uplift in legal aid fees over that period.
“This investment also recognises the important contribution that legal aid makes towards tackling inequalities across Scotland. Legal aid helps often vulnerable people to deal with a range of issues, such as housing, debt, mental health and family breakdown, as well as providing a defence against criminal charges. In supporting the rule of law is upheld and that individual rights are protected, legal aid provision benefits all in our society.”
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% increase over two years and 13% over three years.
The legal aid fund in Scotland is uncapped and expenditure is based on the demand for provision of services. Martyn Evans’s Independent Strategic Review of Legal Aid in Scotland: Rethinking Legal Aid identified that Scotland’s legal aid spend per head is among the highest in the European Union and has both the widest scope and eligibility.