The driver for the establishment of a Legal Aid Payment Review Panel was the recommendation made by Martyn Evans in the Independent Strategic Review of Legal Aid. The Evans report reflected on the current process for negotiating and setting fee levels. It considered submissions to support a general uplift in fees, including research commissioned by the Law Society of Scotland about the impact of current fee levels on solicitors’ income. The report also considered comparisons between prosecution and defence costs. Despite this, Martyn Evans found a lack of evidence on what constituted a “fair” remuneration and he recommended that a robust and independent evidence guided process for reviewing and agreeing fees should be developed, informed by a much stronger evidence base.
During the course of the Legal Aid Payment Review Panel, panel members considered the current provision of legal aid; public funding for legal services in other jurisdictions; and how public funding in the NHS supports provision of services by private businesses to meet government priorities. What the panel found was that there was no single model which would transfer across to Scotland without losing fundamental principles of legal aid provision.
As with the findings of the Independent Strategic Review of Legal Aid, the panel found that detailed research is required to build an evidence guided process for setting legal aid payments and reviewing them regularly.
The evidence the panel received demonstrated that there is no “silver bullet” for establishing the structures and setting the levels of payments for publicly funded legal assistance. A “one size fits all” approach will not reflect the variety of different circumstances and providers. However, the work of the panel does identify the potential to improve significantly the transparency in how fee levels are set, to ensure an evidence guided process that is subject to regular review, and to better reflect the needs of the profession and the changing requirements of the justice system and those who rely on access to publicly funded legal assistance.
Neil Rennick, Chair
Director of Justice