Survey shows fall in civil legal aid cases

A survey of 300 solicitors carried out by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) in 2018-19 shows a continuing drop in the amount of work carried out under civil legal aid.  395 of firms say the number of legally aided civil cases their firm has undertaken has declined over the last two years, whereas privately funded civil work is either stable of increasing.  Despite this, 78% of respondents thought that it was likely that their firm would still be doing legal assistance work in three years’ time.

Concern about local availability of legal aid solicitors has grown, with 36% of responses stating that there are too few civil legal assistance solicitors in their firm’s area.  Types of legal work where it is thought to be difficult to find a legal aid solicitor locally included all types of divorce, contact and residence, protective orders, adults with incapacity and
domestic abuse.

Administration of applications and accounts, and above all the rates of legal aid pay, were felt to be major challenges for the majority (92% in relation to legal aid rates).  Respondents were asked what percentage of their firm’s legal aid clients came from each type of area. Amongst those who served clients in cities or large towns on average over two thirds (69%) came from these urban areas. For those who had legal aid clients from small towns, the average proportion of all legal aid clients was 41%. For rural areas  the average was 17%, while the averages for remote rural areas and islands were 11% and 10% respectively.  Practitioners in Grampian, Highlands and Islands were significantly more likely to say they thought it would be difficult to find a legal solicitor in these areas.

When asked about accessing a mediation or a contact centre, one quarter (25%) thought that
people in their firm’s area would have a problem.

While these survey results come form a period before Covid-19, they provide a useful indication of some issues affecting legal aid provision across Scotland.