Risk of “legal aid deserts” in rural and island areas – McArthur

25 Jan 2024
Liam McArthur speaking in the chamber

Orkney’s MSP Liam McArthur today warned again that the falling number of criminal defence solicitors across Scotland poses particular risks in rural and island areas which could become “legal aid deserts”.

Mr McArthur was speaking in parliament during General Questions, joining other MSPs in highlighting concerns raised by the Law Society of Scotland over an “exodus” of defence solicitors caused by underfunding of the legal aid system. Orkney’s MSP focused specifically on the growing challenges in communities like Orkney, where access to legal representation is becoming ever more difficult.

Speaking in the Chamber, Mr McArthur asked:

“The lack of defence solicitors is a particular problem in rural and island communities, with the falling numbers giving rise to the risk of ‘legal aid deserts’ in some areas. What steps will the Minister take to address this specific aspect of the problems rightly raised by the Law Society of Scotland?”

Commenting afterwards, Mr McArthur said:

“The number of legal aid solicitors, both civil and criminal, has been falling for years. Those who continue to undertake legal aid work are having to cover an ever larger area and there are reports of firms on the Scottish mainland becoming less willing to take on island clients. All of this adds up to a serious problem for islanders looking to access justice, including some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

“Like the current pause in island jury trials, the difficulties of accessing legal aid shows how vulnerable islands are within Scotland’s justice system. It is time that Scottish Ministers took these specific issues seriously and developed a plan to avoid the emergence of legal aid ‘deserts’ across the Highlands & Islands.”