Civil legal aid plea

I write on behalf of the Scottish Association of Law Centres. The Law Society of Scotland has launched a discussion paper which states: “We suggest that consideration should be given to the following areas being removed from the scope of civil legal assistance: breach of contract; debt; employment law; financial only divorce; housing/heritable property; personal injury (with the exception of medical negligence).”

The Scottish Association of Law Centres believes this suggestion would severely restrict access to justice for those who most need it in Scotland.

In our view and experience, this is a socially regressive proposal that would penalise the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society, taking Scotland backwards in time by more than half a century, to a pre-1950 era when there was no civil legal aid.

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As local community law centres undertaking thousands of housing, debt, employment law, breach of contract and personal injury cases across Scotland each year, our clients rely upon the availability of civil legal assistance to access justice and secure a fair resolution of legal disputes.

We do not understand why the Law Society of Scotland, when charged with a statutory duty to promote the interests of the public in Scotland, would suggest consideration be given to abolishing civil legal aid in vital areas of legal need. That is particularly so, when the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees a right to a fair hearing in civil matters with a right to legal representation and an equality of arms between parties.

The availability of civil legal assistance to fund solicitors to defend repossessions and evictions, tackle poor housing conditions and seek reparation for damage to health, challenge the unlawful harassment of tenants, act in complex debt and consumer credit cases, seek legal remedies for unfair dismissal of workers and tackle discrimination in the workplace, is absolutely fundamental for a fairer and more equal Scotland.

We hope the Law Society of Scotland will withdraw these ill-advised and ill-considered proposals in the Scottish public interest.

Mike Dailly

Principal Solicitor

Govan Law Centre

On behalf of the Scottish Association of Law Centres, including:

Castlemilk Law and Money Advice Centre

Dundee North Law Centre

Govan Law Centre

Legal Services Agency

Renfrewshire Law Centre