Strategic Aim 1: Place the voice and interest of the user at the centre
Recommendations in this category focus on placing the user at the centre of the legal aid service and building around those needs and upon the vision narrated in the report of a public service delivery model, with government, public and private sector and voluntary services collaborating in the interests of the individual and wider communities. This sits alongside the position in the report that legal aid should be reframed as a public service. The reform of Scotland’s public services places the user at the very centre of service design and delivery, and evaluating success regards the views of the user as an essential indicator, either that the system is working well or that some design or delivery systems require adjustment.
People seeking assistance come from a variety of backgrounds and require help with a wide range of justiciable problems. We must recognise there will not just be a single voice to be captured and that there may be difficulty in engagement with some users of publicly funded legal assistance. The report rightly stated that putting the user at the heart of any system cannot be a one-off intervention, therefore a multifaceted and continuous approach will be needed.
The report considers that solicitors delivering legal advice and assistance are also users of the system, and recommended the establishment of a solicitor reference group and its involvement in court business planning, as well as representation of legal aid practitioners at local Criminal Justice Board level. This would help ensure that, as key stakeholders in the court system, these voices are heard and respected within that system. This is a matter for the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service to consider and we will work with them on how to address this recommendation.
Using the existing quality assurance schemes for solicitors providing legally aided services, could help to embed consumer considerations. The Scottish Legal Aid Board is exploring the function of the existing quality assurance schemes for solicitors, how these work now and how improvements can be made, and it is intended that this work be taken forward with the involvement of the Law Society of Scotland. This work will provide a better understanding of how to capture consumer considerations in both the existing and any reformed schemes.
The report also recognises the important place of local authorities and third sector organisations which provide advice and support to individuals and represent their interests. The report recommends that the role of other funders be fully articulated in any new model of legal aid, and that the connection between third sector providers, local authorities, solicitors and alternative dispute resolution be strengthened, where appropriate. The report recommends that the membership of the Justice Board should be adjusted to accommodate third sector and local authorities. This is a matter for partners on the Justice Board and their views on this recommendation will be sought.
The full achievement of this aim is not possible without primary legislation, and the recommendations underpinning the aim recognise that. However, there may be elements of improvement that can be made within the current statutory and operational framework and this is currently being explored by Scottish Government and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
This is an issue on which we will seek views by way of a public consultation. We will seek views on the most effective way to secure that the voice and experience of the user is captured in design and delivery of publicly funded legal assistance. In the meantime, we will work with the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Scottish Legal Aid Board on early improvement that can be made to better involve users of the legal aid and justice systems; we will liaise with the Justice Board on their engagement with third sector and local authority providers.
Email: Shona Urquhart