There is universal agreement that Scotland should have a legal assistance system that protects the most vulnerable and works effectively for those who depend on legal aid and for those who provide legal advice.
We, like many, believe the current legal aid system is no longer fit for purpose and, with the ongoing reforms to modernise the wider court and justice system, the time is right for root and branch change.
Publication of the Law Society’s Legal Assistance – Fit for the 21st Century discussion paper is the first step in what we hope will be a constructive debate on legal aid in Scotland.
The Law Society’s civil and criminal legal aid committees have included a wide range of ideas in the paper, including those which may be considered controversial.
Our aim is to ensure that all options can be considered as part of a full and open discussion and generate new thinking on how to build a better, less complex system which focuses on those who need assistance most. We appreciate the feedback from the Scottish Association of Law Centres and others (Letters, 20 November), particularly around civil legal aid.
Our consultation is not, however, about civil or criminal legal aid in isolation but rather the system as a whole as well as its intrinsic parts.
We want to encourage further discussion on a range of issues, for example the current universal eligibility for legal aid for adults with incapacity, or whether people dealing with a mortgage repossession case would be better served under a different system as they would not be subject to clawback of legal aid funds as currently happens.
We are very keen to hear from those involved in the justice sector about their ideas and proposals for reform – if indeed they agree that reform is needed – to help achieve a legal aid system which continues to protect access to justice for those who need it.
Law Society of Scotland