Law Society campaign draws public attention to Scotland’s legal aid crisis

Thousands of some of Scotland’s most deprived families face the prospect of representing themselves in court due to a chronic shortage of civil legal aid firms.

New analysis from the Law Society of Scotland shows that Scotland’s 139 most deprived communities, home to around 100,000 people, share just 29 civil legal aid practices. There are no civil legal aid offices in 122 of the 139 regions.

Of the law firms in these areas, nearly 90,000 (87,064) people find themselves without any local access.

Legal Aid is an essential service affecting a range of life-changing situations and is the only way for Scotland’s poorest families to get legal help. Often it is during the most difficult times in life that people will need legal help.

Legal aid for civil legal actions is only available to people with disposable income of less than £293 per month – beyond this there is a cost to pay, which can be up to full reimbursement of the cost of legal aid.

The most common civil cases relate to divorce and child contact or custody; adoption; immigration and asylum cases; and deportation. They also routinely involve obtaining compensation for medical negligence, securing social benefits, and other financial situations.

Now, top social commentator, activist and award-winning author Darren McGarvey has thrown his support behind a new campaign to ensure the most vulnerable in society get the legal help they need.

Mr McGarvey said: ‘Just imagine standing alone in a courtroom arguing your case, facing an experienced lawyer. Now imagine your child’s custody being at stake. Or life-changing compensation after a workplace accident.

“The absurdity of this proposal, combined with the inequalities within the justice, health and education systems, is exactly why I support the Law Society of Scotland in highlighting the real issues facing real people. people in Scotland. Something has to change.

“In a nation that prides itself on progressive social values, these numbers should act as a stark warning. Those who are already the most disadvantaged have their last line of defense removed. The Scottish Government has let inflation quietly reduce legal aid costs for the past two decades – now we have to catch up.

The Law Society of Scotland is calling on the Scottish public to contact their local MSP if they share Darren McGarvey’s concerns and want action taken. He says the crisis is exacerbated by the fact that legal aid fees agreed in 1999 only increased by 10%, while inflation increased by 55%. The Scottish Government recently proposed an £11million increase in spending on criminal and civil legal aid.

Murray Etherington, President of the Law Society of Scotland added: “Legal aid is a fundamental part of Scottish society. The lack of representation available to those who need it most continues to be an unresolved issue. We need to stop seeing it as just a problem for lawyers – it’s a problem for everyone.

“The increased funding recently proposed by the Scottish Government may provide a short-term band-aid, but it will not address the deep wounds in the legal aid system caused by a generation of underfunding. Without further serious action, the huge decline we have seen in the number of registered civil legal aid firms will continue.

“If we are to continue to help the poorest families in our society, we need to ensure longer term sustainable investments in legal aid services. We hope these new figures serve as a reminder of the difficulties so many people face and urge the Scottish Government to take action.