Disabled people ‘missing out’ in legal aid review, says law centre

Concerns are being raised by Legal Spark Law Centre over disability independent review.  PICTURE: John Devlin
Concerns are being raised by Legal Spark Law Centre over disability independent review. PICTURE: John Devlin
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Disabled people will be discriminated against despite an independent review of legal aid, the head of Scotland’s first social enterprise legal practice has said.

Daniel Donaldson, director and solicitor at Legal Spark, said the review, published earlier this week, ignored the difficulties of disabled people working part-time or in are receipt of contribution-based benefits, who can be asked to make a financial contribution to the cost of legal aid.

Mr Donaldson, whose Glasgow-based firm participated in the review and presented evidence, said while he welcomed the reduction of red tape there were flaws impacting on people with disabilities attempting to get justice.

“If you are on a low income and in receipt of disability related benefits, you should not have to ‘pay the state’ for the privilege to challenge disability discrimination.”

“The review failed to address this inadequacy. This is extremely disappointing and frustrating.

“Overall, the law says disabled people are protected from discrimination, but what use is this when it cannot be enforced?

“Cases involving disability discrimination will fail because the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Government will not provide the necessary financial support to allow solicitors to professionally and competently represent their disabled clients.”

Mr Donaldson said the review ignored its obligations to disabled people under both the Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“I personally gave evidence which outlined the negative experiences of disable people directly linked to legal aid fees and the limited financial resources available to disabled people.

“The failure of both the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Government to ensure that sufficient funding is available to support disabled people amounts to discrimination.

“In refusing to examine the fees paid for legal aid work, and how the legal aid system is resourced, an important opportunity to take account of the experience of disabled people was missed.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The review of legal aid was conducted by an independent review group, which considered the views of a wide range of stakeholders with an interest in legal aid.

“The review report acknowledges specifically the needs of people with disabilities. We welcome this report and will now consider the review groups recommendations before announcing our position in due course.”