Survey questions the existence of civil legal aid
Scotland, Sept.27: The mere existence of the Civil legal aid is put into question after the publication of a survey showing nine out of ten law firms are preparing to withdraw from all such cases within the span of four years. The Civil legal aid is provided to those who cannot afford to appoint a solicitor in non-criminal cases. Divorce cases and the women being abused often depend on civil legal aid. It is also provided for adoption cases, debt and child law.
The reason for this is attributed to the way payments are decided with the low rates of pay under civil legal aid. Lawyers across
Oliver Adair, the convener of the Law Society’s Legal Aid (solicitors) committee, warned that the weaker side of the society would suffer if the solicitors withdraw their services.
He further added that, ‘the reforms included in the system in 2003, which were expected to increase access for the most vulnerable, will end up doing the opposite’.
The reforms were supposed to make the system simpler and more accessible for those most in need, introducing standard block fees for lawyers for set amounts of work and allowing lawyers to be paid for at least some of their work before the case was completed.
The survey was conducted by the Law Society only after hearing the increasing number of anecdotal evidence of dissatisfaction with the reforms that were introduced by the previous Scottish administration. However, the survey found 92 per cent of lawyers who provide services under civil legal aid were planning to end the service in the next four years. Most believe that they are getting so much less now, in terms of legal aid fees, that it does not make any sense to stay within the system.
When asked about the reasons for either giving up or considering quitting civil legal aid, 80 per cent of lawyers said it was because the system was “financially unviable” and 60 per cent also complained about the problem of bureaucracy.
The Scottish Government spokesman while responding to this survey said: “We are aware that civil legal aid fee levels are a major concern for solicitors. That is why the Scottish Legal Aid Board is reviewing the fees paid to solicitors undertaking civil legal aid work to see if the block fee arrangements are providing an appropriate level of remuneration”.
He further added that, “Regulations have been laid in parliament this week which will improve payments for undefended (non-divorce) civil actions in the sheriff court. This should make it more financially viable for solicitors to take on work such as seeking a protection order.”
For most firms, civil legal aid amounts to only a small part of their work, so it would not be difficult for them to pull out. The Law Society survey laid emphasis onto the serious problem lying ahead and stressed on the need to implement the reform so as to get rid of the overall collapse of the system. We can expect the legal firms and the government authorities to strike a balance to bring out an amicable settlement of this issue, considering the public wellbeing.