THE bill for helping people on low and middle incomes defend themselves in courts fell by 2.6 per cent to £157.2 million last year, new figures have revealed.
However, the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab), which manages the budget for the Scottish Government, has admitted it faces a “substantial challenge” to make more savings in future.
The legal aid bill, which is not capped, hit a record £161.4m in 2011/12.
Iain Robertson, chairman of Slab, said: “The Scottish Government, the board and the legal profession have a substantial challenge ahead of us to deliver a sustainable level of legal aid expenditure while at the same time ensuring there is not the corresponding reduction in access to legal aid we have seen recently in other countries.
“Savings of £12 million were made in 2011-12 as a result of a range of measures developed by the Scottish Government and the coard, and negotiated with the Law Society of Scotland. Without these reforms legal aid fund expenditure would have been considerably higher.”
With budgets tightening the Scottish Government is determined to make savings and has proposed that people with disposable income of £68-a-week or more should make contributions, which should be collected by criminal defence lawyers.
That has angered the profession and, yesterday, the Edinburgh Bar Association voted, in principle, on strike action if the government does not change course.