Scottish Legal Aid Board annual report published: Dean’s statement
The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) has published its 2014-15 annual report, which shows an eight per cent, or £11.9m, drop in total expenditure.
The total was £138.6m, from £150.5m the previous year, and criminal legal assistance fell ten per cent from £94m to £84m, and civil legal assistance from £47.7m to £43.9m (eight per cent).
Payments to advocates totalled £11.9m, while the figures for the previous two years were £14.5m and £18.3m. Payments to solicitors were £107.7m (£117.1m and £115.1m) and to solicitor advocates £3m (£4.3m and £4.5m).
James Wolffe, QC, Dean of Faculty, said: "Access to justice is fundamental to a fair society governed by the rule of law. Skilled legal advice and representation for all who need it is essential if access to justice is to be meaningful. Scotland has a proud history in that regard.
“The Chairman of the Board is right to observe that observers outside Scotland look with envy and respect at our efforts here to deal with the challenge of tight public finances without the reduction in the scope of legal aid or deep cuts in eligibility for civil legal aid that have been seen elsewhere. While the Board signals that there will be a continuing need to deliver savings in legal aid expenditure, it is imperative that skilled legal advice and representation should continue to be available in Scotland to all who need those services. In that regard, I welcome the Board's commitment to work with the Faculty and with others, with a view to maintaining access to justice for all in Scotland."
Colin Lancaster, Chief Executive of SLAB, said: “The fall in expenditure in 2014-15 is not a signal that the financial challenges are over or that the legal aid system doesn’t need further reform and streamlining.
“The impact of the UK Spending Review means that significant further changes are needed to meet the Scottish Government’s budget allocation for legal aid. While the legal aid fund is demand led, and no-one who is eligible will be refused legal aid, expenditure savings will need to be found.
“Access to justice can only be maintained in the face of these financial challenges by working collaboratively with those interested in protecting the vulnerable through a legal aid system that is broad in scope and encourages a strategic approach to meeting needs.”