Legal Assistance (Island and Remote Areas)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 13 March 2019.

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Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

An independent strategic review of legal aid was announced to Parliament on 2 February 2017. The chair of the review, Martyn Evans, reported back to the Scottish ministers in February 2018. In his report, the chair commented on the availability of legal assistance in rural areas and recommended that a new payment model that takes into account geographical difficulties be set up. I am pleased to say that the first meeting of the expert payment advisory panel will be on 15 March 2019. It is vital that key stakeholders work together to make the panel a success. With that in mind, we are implementing a 3 per cent increase in legal aid fees, which will come into effect on 26 April 2019.

The panel’s work will be longer term and some changes will require primary legislation. In the shorter term, we will continue to ensure that individuals who are entitled to it will continue to receive access to justice.

In the event that private criminal solicitors are unavailable, public defence solicitors, who are directly employed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board, are able to assist. In some rural areas, including the Highlands and Islands, civil legal aid offices are able to assist in some types of civil case. We also continue to allow private solicitors to access payments for travelling time to remote or rural areas of the country, if that is required.