THE Law Society of Scotland has told the Scottish Government it’s members solicitors should not be made responsible for collecting contributions from clients in summary legal aid cases, a duty many see as being the domain of the beleaguered Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB), the body which is responsible for Scotland’s £150 million pound annual legal aid budget.
The Law Society of Scotland’s Press Release :
Solicitors should not become state-sponsored debt collectors, the Law Society of Scotland claimed today, Thursday, 3 May, in response to the publication of the Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance (Scotland) Bill.
The bill introduces financial contributions into criminal legal aid and makes changes to financial eligibility in criminal legal assistance.
The Bill includes a provision which would require individual solicitors to collect the contributions from clients in summary legal aid cases.
Ian Moir, a member of the Society's criminal legal aid negotiation team, said: "We absolutely agree that people who can afford to pay a portion of the cost of their legal aid should do, provided they can afford to do so.
"However, we have a number of serious practical concerns, particularly around how contributions will be collected.
"The collection of contributions for criminal legal aid should be undertaken by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) and not by solicitors or their firms. The financial and administrative burdens on solicitors will be significant at a time when they are feeling the impact of the budget cuts which the Scottish Government made.
"More than 95% of contributions in civil legal aid cases are collected by SLAB, so it would be consistent for them to collect contributions in all criminal legal aid cases as well. We simply do not believe that solicitors should end up being large scale, state-sponsored debt collectors particularly when SLAB already has structures in place to carry this out."
In its discussions with the Scottish Government and SLAB on how the contributions system will operate, the Society understands that the regulations will only allow SLAB to pay the non-contributory element of the summary fee to solicitors.
The Society understands that solicitors will be expected to collect contributions in summary (less serious) cases, whilst SLAB will collect contributions in solemn (more serious) cases. The vast majority of criminal cases in Scotland are summary cases.
Moir added: "It is up to individual solicitors whether or not to act for any client, however that decision could be affected if a solicitor has to collect a client's contribution. Many solicitors do not have the resources to chase up additional unpaid bills."