Responding to the Scottish Government Budget today, Thursday, 15 December, Eilidh Wiseman, President of the Law Society of Scotland said:

“This is an important budget for Scotland as the first under the new devolved powers which allow the Scottish Government to set income tax rates.

“We are pleased to see the slight increase in investment in the justice sector overall. The reality however, is that much of this has been allocated to the police and fire service, which will mean another challenging year for other areas of the justice sector.

“The proposed budget for legal aid has seen a slight decrease from £136.9m to £135.2m. This is a cause for concern given the expected spend for this year is £138.4m.

“We are pleased to see that the Scottish Government remains committed to the principle of legal aid funding being demand led and ensuring the necessary money is available, whatever budget is set now. However this does not dispel our concerns around the sustainability of the current legal aid system.  In particular, current rates of payment for legal aid work risk making the provision of legal services to some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, simply uneconomical.  We already know that gaps are developing in the provision of legal aid in parts of Scotland and we have to work hard to stop these gaps from growing.

“The government has made clear its intention to conduct a full review of the legal aid system in the New Year. We strongly welcome this and look forward to discussing our ideas and suggested reforms which we believe will help ensure people access the legal advice and services they need, where and when they need them.”