Since the publication of : Rethinking Legal Aid: An Independent Strategic Review in February this year, the Scottish Government has given careful consideration to the contents of the report. It was vital to have a sense of the wider reaction to the report and conduct informal engagement with key stakeholders to discuss its findings and recommendations. This initial engagement helped to identify not only those aspects of the report stakeholders were most interested in, but also determine what changes could be implemented to help improve the existing system, in the short term, without the need for legislation. That time with stakeholders has been very helpful.
In this response, we will provide some preliminary analysis on what has been recommended with reference to each of the six strategic aims outlined in the report:
1 Place the user voice and interest at the centre;
2 Maintain the scope but simplify;
3 Support and develop an effective delivery model;
4 Create fair and sustainable payments and fees;
5 Invest in service improvement and technological innovation; and
6 Establishing effective oversight.
We will also set out the work either already underway or planned which will provide early improvements to the legal aid system in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has no concluded view on how best to deliver the longer term aims and will issue a public consultation that will inform future reforms. However this response signals the Scottish Government’s willingness to take forward supported recommendations that will deliver an enhanced system of legal aid across Scotland and the ambition that publicly funded legal assistance continues to be recognised as an invaluable public service. The role that local authorities and others have in the funding and delivery of advice services is recognised, and while a fully integrated design of advice and legal services could deliver benefits, further aspirations for better integration of advice services will take longer to develop and deliver. In the meantime we are taking steps to introduce changes that will improve the current legal aid system, such as the establishment of a payment review panel, and the simplification of administrative processes.
Email: Shona Urquhart