Date lodged: 30 August 2018
To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact of changes to legal aid on the number of entrants to the criminal legal aid sector.
Answered by: Ash Denham 27 September 2018
Any changes made to the legal aid system via primary or secondary legislation are subject to a Business Regulatory Impact Assessment. There is no requirement to assess impact of regulations on the number of new entrants to the criminal legal aid sector as part of this assessment.
Crime has been reducing over several years and since 2013 the number of criminal case reports to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has reduced from 293,671 to 177,801, a reduction of nearly 39%. In that same period the number of criminal legal aid providers has reduced by less than 16%.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board has been able to confirm that in 2017-2018 the number of criminal legal aid trainees was 86 in firms that do criminal legal aid work regularly worth in excess of £100k per annum. This is a minimum number that can be clearly identified, and there are more trainees in mixed practice firms with smaller income from criminal legal aid work. Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has been training around 21 criminal lawyers per year in the last 5 years. A number of them will go on to work in criminal defence firms.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board will analyse data from the Law Society of Scotland on trainee numbers over the last five years, however against the backdrop of a sustained decrease in criminal cases proceeding at court the figures suggest new entrants who seek to progress a career providing criminal legal services can do so. The only current limitation is the amount of work available to practitioners.