Orkney's MSP, Liam McArthur, has today met with the Minister for Community Safety, Ash Regan, alongside legal aid lawyers to discuss the ongoing fears for the provision of the services in rural and island communities.
It follows repeated warnings by the Scottish Solicitors Bar Association and the Law Society of Scotland over inadequate funding to the system which sets out to help those with lower incomes find free legal representation.
Local practitioners in Orkney have also warned recently that the decline in civil legal aid a "disaster" for island communities. Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed last month that the number of lawyers on the duty solicitor scheme fell from 753 in 2019 to 643 last year, while the number of firms fell from 392 to 352.
Commenting on the meeting, Mr McArthur said:
"The steady decrease in the number of solicitors and firms available to provide legal representation has been extremely concerning. This has been particularly felt in island communities such as Orkney and Shetland, which risk becoming ‘legal aid deserts’, despite repeated warnings by firms and practitioners over the years.
"Today’s meeting was helpful in providing an opportunity to provide the Minister with a first-hand account of the situation on the ground in Orkney. I welcome Ash Regan’s willingness to engage and her assurance that ‘nothing is off to table’ in looking at how these issues might be resolved.
"In response, local practitioners put forward proposals such as paying firms a retainer fee for legal aid work and reversing earlier cuts to travel support. Both are practical solutions that could help in ensuring the availability of legal aid provision in island communities.
"Ultimately, it is difficult to see how there can be proper access to justice without access to a solicitor. Given the trends we have been seeing over recent years, it is essential that the Minister responds positively, and with urgency, to what she has heard today. I will certainly continue to make that argument over the weeks and months ahead."