During the last Holyrood elections, my colleague and I paid a visit to a candidate, who is now in a position of some responsibility and influence. We asked the candidate what his/her position was on law centres. The answer was: “I believe in law centres. I think there should be more of them.”
I mention this in passing merely as a prelude to the Justice section of the Scottish Government‘s spending plans, released today. There are some very interesting sections, including the following:
“maintenance of the prison and court estates will be reduced to the minimum sustainable levels”
In addition, I think consideration should be given to turning the heating down during the summer months. This would also assist the Scottish Court Service in meeting its carbon targets.
“The priority will be to maintain as much as possible a legal aid system in Scotland that enables people who could not otherwise pursue or defend their rights to be able to do so.”
That’s good news, although the key question must obviously be: what does “as much as possible” mean?
“we will deliver cheaper methods of provision including through expansion of the role taken by the Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO). This will offer an increased choice of a different type of service and allow a greater ability to control costs.”
I don’t practice criminal law, so I don’t know so much about the PDSO and can’t see why it would be cheaper – after all you can’t abate SLAB employees’ salary costs in the same way that criminal practitioners’ accounts often are. Also, I’m not sure how the PDSO offers a greater ability to control costs? No mention of the PDSO’s civil cousin, CLAO here, but perhaps that’s one of the things meant by “cheaper methods of provision”?
“taking a structured approach to fees for counsel in civil and children’s cases”
“demands on the legal aid budget throughout 2011-12 … will be managed throughout the year.”
Oh dear – that doesn’t sound great …
“fees should recover the costs to public funds of providing access to court and Public Guardian services”
That sounds expensive. Also, if we’re going to be taking that kind of commercial approach do we get a refund if we turn up at Court only to find that there isn’t a Sheriff available to hear the case?
And what of the humble law centre? Delivering efficient access to justice, accountable to the local community, supported by dedicated volunteers and modestly paid staff? There is no mention of law centres.
PS. Has anyone else noticed the similarity of the logos (and acronyms) of PDSO and PDSA? The PDSA has a slogan: “for pets in need of vets”. Maybe PDSO should adopt something similar (e.g. “for thieves in need of briefs”?). Your suggestions are invited.