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The Law Society's Access to Justice Committee has proposed a radical overhaul of the legal aid system, with the merger of the Legal Aid Board with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission at the heart of it.
The committee are proposing that the annual £12.7 million SLAB administrative bill could be streamlined " to protect front line public services".
"We can either sit back and wait for front-line legal services for vulnerable people to be cut, or we can seize the initiative and identify innovative solutions," said committee convener Mike Dailly.
"The Access to Justice Committee believes some of the functions of SLAB could be merged with the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission (which is paid for by solicitors) to form a new, cost effective ‘Scottish Legal Services Commission’. Many administrative functions could be delegated to legal practitioners, using a GP-type model, with a new role for Audit Scotland to safeguard compliance.
"We’ll be producing detailed re-modelling, but are confident a new ‘one-stop-shop’ which handled all legal complaints, payments, and strategic planning could save the taxpayer up to £40m over the next five years, with further savings over the longer term. Such savings would avoid the need to cut access to vital front line legal services for the Scottish public. The Access to Justice Committee believes a radical process of reorganisation and simplification should form part of an early Access to Justice or Legal Aid Bill after the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2011".
In a statement, the committee said the forthcoming public sector cuts need not threaten access to justice in Scotland if the administration of legal aid was reorganised and rationalised in line with other 21st century public service delivery models.
The committee also said a new merged Scottish Legal Services Commission could be located in modern premises with lower maintenance costs outwith Edinburgh, such as in for example, West Lothian or Lanarkshire.