AS the Law Society's consultation on the future of legal aid closes we wish to express our concerns about the society's proposal to limit its scope.


We agree that legal aid in Scotland needs reform to create an effective and sustainable service. However, the proposition made by the Law Society to omit certain areas from the scope of civil legal aid risks putting our most vulnerable in jeopardy with no realistic prospect of improving our current system of legal aid for either lawyers or the public.

The areas that the Law Society proposes be removed from scope of civil legal aid include debt, employment law and housing/heritable property along with several others. Under these areas there could be cases involving evictions, unlawful harassment of tenants, unfair dismissal of workers and workplace discrimination. All of these are serious issues which could require the expertise of, and representation by, a lawyer.

Interestingly, the proposal to take these areas out of legal aid is "contingent on there being a properly funded and widely available advice network".

However, the document gives no indication of how such funding would be guaranteed. This shows a lack of understanding about how the advice sector is funded, the way in which the sector operates and of the numerous pressures the sector currently faces. Nevertheless, the intent is clear. In the instances outlined above the advice and advocacy sector would provide assistance instead of lawyers.

Ultimately, what the Law Society hopes to achieve from this proposal is unclear and could put our most vulnerable people at risk.

John Downie, Head of Public Affairs, SCVO; Lily Greenan, Manager, Scottish Women's Aid; Graeme Brown, Director, Shelter Scotland; Grahame Smith, General Secretary, STUC; Paul Brown, Principal Solicitor, Legal Services Agency Ltd;

c/o Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh.

REMOVAL of personal injury cases from the scope of legal aid would result in a funding gap which would deny access to justice for thousands of injured and vulnerable.

While we understand the Law Society's desire to examine the efficiency of the current system, it is important to make clear that there is no evidence of a financial need to withdraw legal aid from personal injury cases. In the vast majority of cases where the pursuer initially needs to rely on the legal aid fund, the claims are well founded and successful. Costs are ultimately paid by the defender's insurer so there is no claim on the fund. These cases are excellent value for public money and it is highly doubtful that the removal of personal injury cases will lead to much by way of savings. It will, however, exclude many people with worthwhile cases from access to the courts.

The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers is committed to supporting improvements to the legal aid system, but this is not the right approach. We have worked with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (Slab) to make improvements to the scheme and we agree with Slab that there is scope for simplification and reform but that this cannot be done in isolation.

The civil justice system in Scotland is in the middle of fundamental reform and improvements to legal aid need to be tackled in the context of these changes. They certainly must not jeopardise access to justice for those who need it.

Ronnie Conway

Scotland regional Co-ordinator, Association of Personal Injury Lawyers,

83 Graham Street, Airdrie.