Friday, December 18, 2015

LEGAL BILLIONS: Law Society hits out at legal aid cuts as Scottish Legal Aid Board reveal lawyers received £138.6m public cash in 2014-15, making £1.2bn since 2008 financial crash

Billions in public cash keep ‘struggling’ lawyers afloat. SCOTLAND’S legal profession took home a staggering £138.6 million in public cash last year – for giving Scots access to justice – according to figures released by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) today.

However, the latest round of payments of public subsidies to struggling solicitors, down from last year’s £150.5 million and marked for a further reduction by Finance Secretary John Swinney to £126.1m in 2016 budget - sparked ire at the Law Society of Scotland who yesterday attacked the Finance Secretary’s legal aid reductions as “unrealistic”.

Figures provided by the Scottish Legal Aid Board reveal Scotland’s legal profession have taken home over £1.2 billion in public cash since the great Financial crash of 2008: 2014-2015: £138.6m, 2013-14 £150.5m, 2012-13 £150.2m, 2011-12 £150.7m, 2010-11 £161.4m, 2009-10 £150.5m, 2008-09 £150.2m, 2007-08 £155.1m, TOTAL: £1.207 Billion.

Commenting on the figures, the Scottish Legal Aid Board said “Services funded through the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) provided help during 2014-15 to tens of thousands of often vulnerable people across Scotland. Legal aid funding allowed people to access the services of private practice solicitors, SLAB’s employed solicitors, law centres, and over 100 grant funded projects.”

Legal Aid Big Spenders: See which law firms, Advocates & Solicitor Advocates took home Legal Aid millions in 2014-2015. Glasgow based law firm Livingstone Browne Solicitors remain the top-earning law firm, taking home legal aid payments of £1.9 million. Brian McConnachie QC is Scotland's top legal aid earning advocate, receiving £303,000, Gordon Jackson QC earned £282,000 and third highest earner is Donald Findlay OQ on £258,600.The top legal aid earning solicitor advocate was Iain Paterson of Paterson Bell solicitors – who received £267,200 of public cash for legal services.

The total cost to the taxpayer of legal assistance in Scotland was £138.6 million in 2014-15, a decrease of 8% compared to the previous year. This £11.9m decrease is partly due to changes in the flow of criminal cases through the justice system in 2014-15. However, 2014-15 also saw falling applications and grants of summary criminal and civil legal assistance, offset partly by a slight increase in solemn criminal legal aid and continued growth in children’s legal assistance.

Colin Lancaster, Chief Executive of SLAB, said: “Over the last year, legal aid has again helped people across the country, many of them on low incomes and with caring responsibilities, defend themselves against criminal charges or deal with their problems on debt, housing, mental health or family breakdown.

“Publicly funded legal assistance helps people to resolve the problems they encounter in day to day life by pursuing or defending their rights and as such it makes a vital contribution to tackling inequalities in Scotland.

“The fall in expenditure in 2014-15 is not a signal that the financial challenges are over or that the legal aid system doesn’t need further reform and streamlining.

“The impact of the UK Spending Review means that significant further changes are needed to meet the Scottish Government’s budget allocation for legal aid. While the legal aid fund is demand led, and no-one who is eligible will be refused legal aid, expenditure savings will need to be found.

“Access to justice can only be maintained in the face of these financial challenges by working collaboratively with those interested in protecting the vulnerable through a legal aid system that is broad in scope and encourages a strategic approach to meeting needs. I look forward to doing so over the coming months.”

Iain A Robertson CBE, Chairman of SLAB, said: “Although we have seen the general demand for legal assistance fall again in 2014-15, the funds available to manage public finances are also falling. The need to reduce expenditure on legal aid has not gone away, and will increase.

“We will work collaboratively with others in the justice sector to deliver improvements that will enable further reductions in legal aid expenditure, including by streamlining the legal aid system where possible.

“It is imperative that discussions on reforms are approached strategically and in the context of the justice system as a whole, to protect the best interests of those in need of support from the legal aid system. Otherwise Scotland risks its proud record on maintaining access to justice.”

Key points of the Scottish Legal Aid Board 2014-15 annual report:

    Total expenditure on the Legal Aid Fund in 2014-15 fell by 8% to £138.6 million compared to the previous year. The 2013-14 figure was £150.5 million.
    SLAB assessed 212,000 applications for legal aid and paid 241,000 accounts of solicitors and counsel.
    SLAB managed three grant funding programmes, which enabled support for 108 projects around Scotland. The projects helped nearly 27,000 new clients. SLAB grant funding also contributed to a new Scottish Women’s Rights Centre which helps women experiencing gender based violence.
    SLAB processed all application and account types within its headline performance indicators.
    SLAB reduced the average number of working days it takes to process civil legal aid applications by six working days. It also reduced the average number of working days to making a payment on an account by six working days.
    Expenditure on criminal legal assistance fell by 10% compared to the previous year, from £94.0 million to £85.0 million.
    Net expenditure on civil legal assistance was £43.9 million, a fall of 8% compared to the previous year from £47.7m. There has been a fall in the take-up of advice and representation in civil matters.
    Children’s legal assistance (legal aid and ABWOR) cost £5.2 million, an increase of 7% compared to the previous year, from £4.9 million.
    Gross expenditure on grant funded projects was £6.3 million which increased from £5.5 million as a result of the Scottish Government and Money Advice Service providing extra funding for an extended programme.
    Payments to solicitors totalled £107.7 million, advocates £11.9 million and solicitor advocates £3.0 million.
    Payments on outlays (e.g. expert witnesses and court reports) fell by 8% compared to the previous year, from £19.5 million to £17.9 million.
    Grants of all types of criminal legal assistance have fallen compared to the previous year, apart from a small rise of 1.2% in grants of solemn criminal legal aid. This reflects a longer term trend of declining summary court business.
    Grants of civil legal assistance have fallen by 9.5% compared to the previous year. Demand has fallen due to the easing of pressures stemming from the economic situation. The largest volume year-on-year falls were in cases with subject matters of contact, separation and divorce. All these areas have been steadily declining for the past few years.
    Legal aid grants in relation to intervention orders and guardianship orders under Part 6 of the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 now represent the largest category of legal aid certificates issued at 28% of all grants. Grants of this nature rose 19% in 2014-15 compared to the previous year.
    Grants of children's legal assistance continue to be affected by the changes that came into force on 24 June 2013 that extended the scope and availability of legal assistance for children's hearings. It is still too early to establish a proper comparison in volumes between years.

Responding to cuts in Legal Aid, and the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget for 2016-17, announced yesterday, Christine McLintock, President of the Law Society of Scotland, made the following statement to legal aid practitioners: “The 2016-17 budget allocation for the legal aid fund has been set at £126.1 million, the lowest it has been for well over a decade. This is a reduction from the 2015-16 budget of over 7% (from £136.1 million to £126.1 million).

“Legal aid spending is demand led and not limited by the budget and so we would expect the Scottish Government to continue to meet all its obligations in terms of demand for legal aid over the coming year. However, as you are aware, through its savings initiatives, the Government tries to reduce expenditure to meet the budget allocation.

“The Scottish Government has set the financial target for 2016-17 at a level that:

Is lower, in cash terms, than levels of legal aid expenditure from over 20 years ago (in 1994/95 the total expenditure on legal assistance was £132.1 million).

Is clearly unrealistic if you are trying to maintain an effective and sustainable legal aid system. Given existing figures, in order to reach its target, the Government would need to cut expenditure by at least £10 million by 2016-17. We do not see how this can possibly be achieved without seriously damaging both access to justice and the justice system.”

Investigation on Legal Aid in Scotland: SCOTTISH JUSTICE IN THE DOCK : Scotland's lawyers earn more from Legal Aid than whole of Italy, shock report reveals

The Euro study showed that Scotland disciplined a tiny number of lawyers compared to countries of similar size. Just three were struck off and 13 reprimanded in Scotland in 2010. Denmark, with a similar population, took action against 309 lawyers, with six struck off and 145 fined. And in Finland, also close in size, 99 rogue solicitors were sanctioned. Critics blame the Law Society of Scotland’s dual role of representing lawyers while also acting as regulator.

A large proportion of alleged criminals reported to prosecutors in Scotland are not being put in the dock. Of 265,830 cases sent to the Crown Office, only 41.7 per cent were brought to court. In England and Wales, 90.6 per cent of all cases resulted in court action.

The difference is thought to be partly due to Scotland’s recent introduction of spot fines and fiscal fines for what the authorities insist are more minor offences. Critics claim such fines lead to a secret justice system.

The report reveals that Scotland’s sheriffs top the European pay league.

Our sheriffs, with an average salary of 150,106 euros (£120,000), were number one, ahead of the Irish and Swiss. Next were sheriffs’ counterparts in England and Wales, who were paid 120,998 euros (£95,000). Not only were sheriffs the highest-paid, they also topped the table comparing their earnings to the national average. They earned 5.2 times the average Scot’s wage.


Anonymous said...

Christine McLintock has nothing to complain about given the amount of public money her members have taken in the past few years.

If anything they should now be made to pay some of it back!

Anonymous said...

"Access to justice"????

Rubbish!Access to money for lawyers who decide who goes to court and who is dumped on the street!

Anonymous said...

Odd.A solicitor and his law firm I reported for legal aid fraud is still on the payments list.

Anonymous said...

Waste of money all goes to lawyers clients never get a penny of it a nonsense to suggest this provides access to justice

Anonymous said...

Is clearly unrealistic if you are trying to maintain an effective and sustainable legal aid system. Given existing figures, in order to reach its target, the Government would need to cut expenditure by at least £10 million by 2016-17. We do not see how this can possibly be achieved without seriously damaging both access to justice and the justice system.”
Access to Justice, not available if you have been ruined by a Scottish Lawyer. They don't care who gets shafted with the so called justice system. Dirty lawyers care about ££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££

Nice cars, holidays, expensive houses the same maggots would see a client homeless after the client has been legally robbed of his assets. Access to Justice depends on what the term means.

Wake up, all Lawyers are the worst form of scum.

Anonymous said...

Honestly you have to wonder if these figures SLAB are putting out are genuine.Yes I know everything is audited and backed up by paperwork in triplicate but how many accounting scandals have there been over the past few years and eventually we find out a lot more money went on some spend or some payoff to a Council boss or whoever was really a lot more than was admitted to at the time.

For example how do we go from 2010-11 £161.4m to 2014-2015 £138.6m and not too much words from the Law Society or murmurings from the courts.

After all this is money going into the pockets of lawyers not some charitable or philanthropic endeavour to support victims of crime trying to obtain a measure of justice.

You wrote in another article about Scottish Government contracts of £20 million to £40 million a year going to law firms for work you would expect Sturgeon and her "government" to be doing anyway so they may be cutting legal aid overall but the legal profession is getting the money back in other ways and before anyone else says it probably through some creative accounting with bills to clients.

Anonymous said...

McLintock:"Given existing figures, in order to reach its target, the Government would need to cut expenditure by at least £10 million by 2016-17. We do not see how this can possibly be achieved without seriously damaging both access to justice and the justice system."

The damage to access to justice and the justice system is being done by solicitors and lazy rich judges with too much to hide.Nothing to do with cuts in legal aid.

Anonymous said...

Why did SLAB hang on until Christmas to publish this when usually it comes out sometime in October?
Your last report on the legal aid figures was November 03 2014 so someone is playing the fiddle somewhere..

Anonymous said...

Who believes anything from the legal aid board after you exposed that racket with the 14 lawyers that got away with it after SLAb supposedly reported them to the equally corrupt Crown Office and that report on Lockhart and the rest just a bunch of liars with too much money to hand out to lawyers

Anonymous said...

Perhaps John Swinney read your £1bn infographic and decided enough is enough with the legal aid handouts

Anonymous said...

I heard about a plumber who got ten thousand and the no win no fee crooks got sixty thousand. And you can be sure there will be no legal aid from the public sector for litigation against crooked lawyers irrespective of the arrangement between client and lawyer.

But the Law Society we know are not hitting out at Legal Aid cuts because they care about a member of the public's access to justice. It is a lawyers access to cash they care about. They are master twisters who provide access to justice for obedient clients. The courts are only open for business to those members of the public who pose no threat to legal reputations or no threats to those private interests who have the judges and Legal Profession in their back pocket. They are a cartel of crooks who are basically free to do as they please and their clients get robbed and ruined legally because no actor in a position of power will act for them and protect them. The Law Society, it's lawyers and Judges are in fact in control of self regulated tyranny.

Anonymous said...

Lawyers have a free hand to do as they wish. A website describes how a client notified the Law Society that there was ample evidence that solicitors had been involved in a signature being forged, and had colluded in a court case, the complaints department of the LS had indicated that this was "A VERY SERIOUS MATTER" but did nothing, the Lay Observer did nothing, the Legal Services Ombudsman ,did nothing, the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission did nothing, a Chief Constable did nothing, It was made very clear to all the aforementioned that an offer to sit round the table was made and if a reasonable answer was given to some very simple questions the whole matter would have been dropped, this offer for some reason was completely ignored , except by a Troubleshooter lawyer who through the SLCC declined to meet the client he had acted for!!!!!!

Diary of Injustice said...

@ 18 December 2015 at 17:19

The way Scotland's finances are currently audited, you may be correct ... official figures count for nothing, Audit Scotland is more of a rubber stamp than a rubber stamp, the Accountant in Bankruptcy appears to be running a lucrative deal with accounting firms, lawyers & Sheriff Officers, and well connected fraudsters with legal friends are given a free pass by the Crown Office.

@ 18 December 2015 at 16:46

If you want to report a solicitor for legal aid fraud, tell the press, or email the blog before you bother reporting to the Scottish Legal Aid Board ...

@ 19 December 2015 at 01:54

It would be nice to think ... however you can be sure the legal profession will claw back reductions in public subsidies in other ways ... either hit private clients and public services with hefty rises in legal fees, an increase in plundering client accounts and property, looting wills and executries .. the list is endless.

Anonymous said...

greedy bastards while everyone else gets sacked lawyers are getting more money no matter what