Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Tuesday, 8 April 2008 12:17 UK

New plans for legal aid announced

Legal documents
The reforms are designed to save time and money

Reforms to legal aid for less serious crimes have been proposed by the Scottish Government.

They will mean the introduction of a single fee in the Sheriff and Stipendiary Magistrates courts for cases dealt with before trial.

This will replace different levels of payment for guilty and not guilty pleas and is aimed at encouraging the early resolution of cases.

In 2006/7 summary legal aid cost the country 65.2m.

It is hoped that the reforms will save both time and money.

Following discussions with the Law Society and local Bar Associations, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill published his final proposals for legal aid for summary justice.

The new arrangements will help save time and unnecessary expense enabling summary justice to be fair and swift
Kenny MacAskill
Justice Secretary

Plans include revised payments for Assistance by Way of Representation (ABWOR) (150) and legal aid (315) for JP court cases. A 10% increase to criminal advice and assistance rates and enhanced payments for duty solicitor work is also proposed.

Mr MacAskill said: "We have been clear that we need to develop legal aid arrangements which both support our work to reform the summary justice system and pay solicitors appropriately and fairly for the work they do.

"The new arrangements will help save time and unnecessary expense enabling summary justice to be fair and swift.

"However, any proposals for reform to legal aid must be affordable within the very tight financial constraints we face. With fewer cases likely to go to court unnecessarily, we are able to reinvest savings from the legal aid budget to fund these new arrangements."

The minister said that following concerns expressed by the Law Society and local Bar Associations to the original proposals, he agreed to extend the consultation to the end of January to allow for further discussions.

'Rigorous review'

Solicitor Oliver Adair, who negotiated for the Society on legal aid, said: "There have been significant improvements made to the original proposals but, while of course we welcome the justice secretary's assurances of some additional funds being released, the overall cut in the summary legal aid budget remains.

"The Society thinks that, as there has been no increase in fixed fees since their introduction in 1999, this is a missed opportunity to properly redress under funding over that period.

"However, we want to emphasise that the negotiation process has been positive. These are interim measures and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that legal aid provision remains a priority and that any reforms are placed under immediate, continuing and rigorous review."

He went on to say that it was important that people who may not otherwise have the means to pay for legal advice could have access to a solicitor who can prepare and present their case.

Summary justice accounts for 96% of criminal court business, with more than 130,000 cases every year.

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