Thousands of the most deprived people in Scotland face having to represent themselves in court as a result of a chronic “crisis” in access to legal aid, lawyers have warned.
Calls for the Scottish Government to act have been backed by author and poverty campaigner Darren McGarvey who has said those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are having their “last line of defense pulled away from them”.
The analysis from the Law Society, which represents the legal profession, shows that the 139 most deprived communities in Scotland, resident to around 100,000 people, share just 29 civil legal aid firms between them. There are no civil legal aid firms at all in 122 of the 139 areas.
Of the legal firms in these areas, nearly 90,000 (87064) people are left without any local access at all.
Legal aid for civil court actions is only offered to people with a disposable income of less than £293 per month.
The Law Society has been warned that people now face being forced to represent themselves in divorce proceedings, child custody hearings and immigration hearings.
The campaign has now been backed by Darren McGarvey, author of Poverty Safari.
He said: “Just imagine standing in a courtroom on your own to argue your case, up against an experienced solicitor. Now imagine that the custody of your child is at stake.
“Or a life-changing payout after an industrial accident.
“The absurdity of that proposition, combined with inequalities within the justice, healthcare, and education systems, is
The number of solicitors providing criminal legal assistance to those unable to pay for representation has fallen below 1,000 for the first time since records began. The crisis in accessing legal aid has prompted the Law Society of Scotland to warn that people living in some of the most deprived parts of the country are being denied justice.
In response, the Scottish government has proposed an £11 million increase in both criminal and civil legal aid fees.
The additional funding has been cautiously welcomed by Murray Etherington, the president of the Law Society, but he said it was not enough to resolve “deep-rooted” problems. The body that represents Scotland’s solicitors said a growing number of lawyers were leaving the legal aid sectors.
Stephanie Clinkscale, a solicitor advocate in Galashiels, claimed the system was nearing “breaking point”. “The number of solicitors providing criminal legal assistance in Scotland has now dropped below 1,000 for the first time and the rate of departure has accelerated massively,” she said.
Jacqueline Doyle, who is based in Glasgow, said: “I am not prepared to continue to subsidise criminal work from our civil work as that is becoming unsustainable too.”
Etherington remains concerned about the future. “Access to legal services is a key part of living in a fair and just society,” he said. “Across Scotland, the network of legal aid support is diminishing while the demand for help is increasing.”
He said the government’s proposals were only a “step towards” addressing the society‘s concerns. “It does not fully resolve the deep-rooted issues in the legal aid sector.”
Ash Regan, the community safety minister, said the support being offered to legal aid practitioners was “substantial and credible”. The Scottish government said: “We are pleased that the Law Society has acknowledged our genuine and credible offer of