Legal aid spending brings elevenfold return to society, say Scottish law chiefs

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Dec 01, 2017
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Legal aid has been cut on both sides of the border

ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images

Every £1 spent on legal aid for those facing rent or mortgage arrears claims gives a return to wider society of £11, research has claimed.

Solicitor chiefs in Scotland claimed that 80 per cent of legal aid funding across the board benefits both the direct recipients and wider society through fewer evictions and cases of homelessness.

The independent research, conducted on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland, claimed that 20 per cent of legal aid spent in a case actually benefits the public purse by reducing demand for health and social services.

According to the report, for every £1 spent on legal aid in criminal law cases, or in family cases dealing with issues around finances, child contact or residence after divorce or separation, there is a beneficial return of about £5.

Legal aid funding has been squeezed on both sides of the border over recent years. While most of the legal profession protest has focused on Ministry of Justice cuts to the budget in England and Wales, Scottish lawyers have also been exorcised by cuts to the devolved budget from Holyrood.

The research from the Law Society of Scotland, which represents some 11,500 solicitors, is part of a campaign to win public support for the legal aid. 

The research found that 95 per cent of all legal aid spending benefits recipients in helping to ensure access to justice, with people not having to represent themselves in court.

The remaining 5 per cent of spending benefits public services, including the justice system, with more cases resolved outside of court.

Nonetheless, the lawyers argued that the legal aid budget is falling short of providing comprehensive services.

Graham Matthews, the society’s president, described legal aid funding as “life changing for those who need it, helping to prevent the trauma of people being evicted from their home or losing custody of their children or having to represent themselves in court, which in turn can have other long-term effects including relationship problems, stress and ill health”.

Matthews said the society’s research demonstrated “that each and every one of us in Scotland benefits from legal aid, not just the people who receive it and for every £1 spent there is a bigger return in benefits”.

However, he acknowledged that there continued to be “pressure in public spending” with “difficult decisions to be made”. Nonetheless, there was “an overwhelming case to be made for the significant long-term benefits of having a properly resourced legal aid system which ensures access to justice for all, regardless of where they live or their financial situation”, he said.

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