Saturday, November 08, 2008

MacAskill raises legal aid threshold in attempt to shore up lawyers profits from civil litigation & avoid legal services reform

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has always said he would protect the legal profession no matter what, and well, that is to be expected because he himself is a solicitor.

On his way to protecting the legal profession, Mr MacAskill has announced the 'wider availability' of legal aid from next spring, as he raises the upper threshold of disposable income to £25,000 from the current £10,306 - where people have to start making contributions.

Mr MacAskill's strategy, after long discussions with the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, is apparently to ply us with cheap sound bytes, and money from nowhere to boost business for lawyers in civil law cases and perhaps more importantly, to avoid opening up the Scottish legal services market to competition, after increasing protests from the Law Society their member legal firms are suffering through not enough business (and are having to hike client bills to extortionate levels).

However at the end of the day, there isn't actually any new Civil Legal Aid money on the table, its all about shifting the goal posts once again and giving the impression to the rest of the country there will be more availablility of legal aid, when in truth there is actually less.

It is still a case of Buyer Beware though ... as the same traps still exist for those in receipt of civil legal aid where a loss of a case, or even a win can mean the Legal Aid Board will hunt you down for every penny you received from them … and as many accounts show, clients in receipt of civil legal aid are not always treated equitably or fairly by the legal system and the Legal Aid Board itself ...

The Herald reports :

MacAskill announces plan to give more help with civil legal aid

Changes to the legal aid system mean that more than a million more Scots could be eligible for help with the cost of civil cases, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said yesterday.

He announced that the threshold at which people are no longer eligible for civil legal aid was being increased.

The change comes into effect from next spring and Mr MacAskill said it "should mean that around three-quarters of the adult population will be potentially eligible for legal aid".

Currently, around 42% of Scots are eligible for civil legal aid, helping them with the legal costs of cases such as divorce proceedings, child custody cases and employment tribunals.

But a key factor in whether or not they get legal aid is their disposal income.

At the moment people with a disposal income of £3156 a year or less pay no contribution towards their legal costs, while those with an annual disposable income of up to £10,306 make a contribution towards these.

The changes will mean that the upper threshold is increased to £25,000, with a tapered system of contributions for those with annual disposable incomes of between £10,306 and £25,000.

Mr MacAskill revealed details of the change when he spoke at a conference on legal aid organised by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Law Society of Scotland.

Speaking at the event in Dunblane, the Justice Secretary said: "I have long considered it unfair that people of relatively modest means can find themselves unable to pursue a complex and expensive legal action. As a first step towards correcting that unfairness we will increase the financial eligibility limits for civil legal aid with an appropriately tapered contribution regime.

"From next spring, the upper limit for disposable income will increase to £25,000 which should mean that around three-quarters of the adult population will be potentially eligible for legal aid. For the first time in many a year, legal aid is being rolled out, not rolled back."

Mr MacAskill also said that the Scottish Government was working with the Scottish Legal Aid Board to bring forward simplified and increased fees for civil legal practitioners.

While the Law Society of Scotland welcomed the changes, it said more details were needed.

Oliver Adair, the convener of the Society's legal aid committee, said: "The Law Society of Scotland supports any initiative which extends access to justice. However, we would like to see more details of the financial eligibility, in particular the contributions levels people will have to pay."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker also said more detail about the change was needed. He said: "Widening access to justice is essential but there is very little detail with this announcement. We need to know whether people will be expected to pay an affordable financial contribution, otherwise the change may have less value in practice."

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