Sunday, December 12, 2010

Accusations of ‘spin’ levelled at Legal Aid Board as ‘satisfaction survey’ over legal aid published days after row over bank charges case funding

After a week of arguments between the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Govan Law Centre over SLAB’s refusal to fund bank charges cases via civil legal aid, the Legal Aid Board today faced fresh allegations of ‘spin’ & ‘cover up’ as it published a ‘feel good survey’ compiled by MVA consultancy reporting there were “high levels of satisfaction with the legal aid procedures operated by the Board, particularly its online services”.

MVA consultancy were selected by SLAB earlier in February 2010 to carry out nationwide survey of solicitors who provide work under legal assistance. The survey was carried out over six weeks by way of a telephone administered questionnaire to a number of randomly selected practitioners throughout Scotland.

A senior solicitor from an Edinburgh law firm hit out today at the way in which the Scottish Legal Aid Board has attempted to cap an ongoing row over the way it awards civil legal aid funds to those seeking access to justice in Scottish Courts by the timely publishing of a “feel good survey depicting SLAB in a better light than it deserves”. The solicitor went onto allege the timely publishing of the survey “was typical media spin from a quango which found itself at the heart of a slew of bad headlines over questionable funding decisions.”

He continued : “Happy smiley face surveys aside, SLAB should be held more to account for the way in which it awards or refuses civil legal aid to clients who are routinely denied access to justice in the Scottish courts through a lack of funding due to blatantly prejudiced decisions taken by the board.”

The Scottish Legal Aid Board survey media release of 10 December 2010 follows :

Legal aid solicitor survey shows high satisfaction and commitment to legal aid (pdf)

An independent survey for the Scottish Legal Aid Board has shown a commitment to legal aid and overall high levels of satisfaction with the legal aid procedures operated by the Board, particularly its online services.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board today published the findings of its independent survey of legal aid solicitors. The survey involved phone interviews with 416 solicitors, across civil and criminal legal aid firms, to gather evidence of the profession’s views on legal aid and the guidance and support provided to them by the Board.

Findings included:

- A significant majority of solicitors are willing to take on more civil legal aid clients (in 2005 43% had said that they had stopped taking on new clients, this is now down to just 2%).

- Solicitors are very positive about continuing to provide legal aid services; 88% “certain” / “likely to” be doing legal aid in three year’s time (compared to 63% in 2005, a 26% increase). These findings support the Board’s experiences of increasing numbers of solicitors wishing to do legal aid work – both civil and criminal legal aid.

- High levels of satisfaction with legal aid processes and guidelines available from the Board. (With very low levels of dissatisfaction indicated across applications and criminal accounts. More varied views were expressed about civil legal aid accounts processes).

- Very strong support for the Board’s online legal aid processes (e.g. 92% for those who submit criminal summary applications were satisfied with the process).

The survey also sought solicitors’ views on aspects of the Summary Justice Reforms on behalf of the Scottish Government, which included reform of Summary Criminal Legal Aid. Findings included:

- 80% of solicitors felt that allowing appointed solicitors to grant criminal ABWOR (assistance by way of representation) for guilty pleas had succeeded in helping to bring about earlier resolution of cases

- about two thirds of solicitors felt that the changes to remuneration were assisting in the earlier resolution of cases.

Lindsay Montgomery, C.B.E., Chief Executive of the Scottish Legal Aid Board commented : “Overall the results are very positive and encouraging not only about the board’s processes and communications, but also in terms of solicitors’ positive attitudes to continuing to provide legal aid services. This reflects the board’s experience of increasing numbers of firms registering to undertake legal aid work. We are already looking at areas where levels of satisfaction are lower than average (albeit still the minority view) to establish where there might be scope for development. I am very grateful to those who took part in the survey.”

"Solicitors are on the front line of legal aid provision and are integral to enabling access to justice, so seeking the profession’s views in this independent way gives us useful information on solicitors’ experiences of the Board’s systems, which will be used to further develop and improve legal aid policy, practices and procedures.”

The summary research briefing (from MVA Consulting) and full results are available on the Board’s website at (if anyone comes up with the direct link to this consultation, which SLAB 'forgot' to add in its Press Statement, please send it in as the SLAB website is a mess – Ed)

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