But the cost of civil legal assistance shot up because of the impact of the recession, the report found.

The Scottish Legal Aid Board’s (Slab) annual report showed the average net cost to the taxpayer of publicly funded legal assistance had dropped by 3.2% to £150.2 million - in contrast to 2008’s record high.

Legal aid - paid out of public funds - exists to help people on low incomes to meet the cost of legal advice.

Last year it cost taxpayers £155 million.

The fall is due to changes in the justice and legal aid system brought in to try and make the system more efficient, the report claimed.

Iain Robertson, SLAB’s chairman said the board was committed to “improving efficiency” in the service.

He said: “We can be proud of the work we have done to improve the delivery of legal aid in Scotland.

“We are committed to working with the Scottish Government to deliver their efficient administration savings targets and to continue reducing our administration costs, improving efficiency and so providing value for money for the taxpayer, whilst providing access to justice and an excellent service to the people of Scotland.”

While legal aid costs for criminal and children’s cases dropped by 7% and 7.9% respectively, civil cases cost the taxpayer £42.6 million - an extra 7.1%.

A Slab spokesman said the growth was “largely related to the recession” and £3 million during the next two years had been secured from the Scottish Government to help meet the costs during the downturn.

The report also published the fees paid to individual advocates, solicitor advocates and solicitors firms during the last year.

Criminal defence specialist Donald Findlay QC topped the high-earners list for the fourth year running, with a legal-aid income of £370,900.

Also at the top of the income table were Gordon Jackson QC, in second place with £314,100, and Frances Connor who earned £283,700.

The highest earning firms were Livingstone Brown and Ross Harper, both based in Glasgow, with fees of £1,985,600 and £1,742,500 respectively.