Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur has secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to look at the provision of legal aid support in island communities.
At Justice Questions in the Scottish Parliament today, Mr McArthur highlighted the “very limited” legal aid provision available in Orkney which has led to people having to seek representation from lawyers based on the Scottish Mainland. In turn, difficulties in getting the Scottish Legal Aid Board to cover the costs of travel has meant that clients often only meet their lawyer on the day of court hearings.
In response, the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Denham MSP, acknowledged the concern and committed to asking the Panel established to review legal aid provision across Scotland, to look at how this specific issue might be addressed.
Commenting after the exchange, Mr McArthur said:
“Legal aid is a vital part of our justice system. It should ensure that everyone has access to justice, through advice and representation, based on need rather than financial means.
“It is clear, however, that challenges exist, particularly in rural and island areas where getting access to a solicitor who is prepared to do legal aid work can be difficult.
“If this is forcing islanders to seek representation from firms on the Scottish mainland, there is already a question about how effective the engagement is between lawyers and their client. This is not helped by an apparent reluctance then on the part the Legal Aid Board to fund travel, meaning clients often only meet their lawyers on the day of court hearings.
“I welcome the Minister’s acceptance that this is not in the interests of justice and that access to legal aid should be available to anyone who needs it, irrespective of where they live. I look forward to the panel set up to review legal aid provision identifying ways in which this support can be ‘island proofed’.