6. Access to justice
There is no requirement to be resident in Scotland when applying for legal aid in Scotland. If it is a matter of Scots Law (including UK law that applies in Scotland) and could be heard in a Scottish Court, an application can be made to the SLAB. Children can access legal advice and representation on the same broad range of issues that adults can, so long as they have the capacity to instruct a solicitor.
The Scottish Government announced a comprehensive, independent review of legal aid on 1 February 2017. The review is expected to last 12 months. With legislation in Scotland dating back nearly 30 years, the review will explore how best the legal aid system can contribute to improving people's lives now and in the future. It will ensure that Scotland has a flexible and progressive system which is sustainable and cost effective.
Provisions in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 will ensure that every person detained at a police station has the right to a private consultation with a lawyer and to have a lawyer present during interview, and this applies also to those attending voluntarily for interview, where they are suspected of committing an offence. The requirement for legal aid contributions for advice and assistance given in a police station was removed on 1 April 2016 and it is now free for every person detained at a police station to have access to a lawyer.
On pre-trial time limits, the Crown must indict within 80 days in custody cases. Once in force, provisions in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 will increase the time between service of the indictment and first diet in the Sheriff and Jury Court from 15 to 29 days, to match the existing timetable in the High Court. This will ensure that all parties are given adequate time to consider and prepare for hearings, and will result in fewer adjournments and late pleas. The Act will also bring the pre-trial detention limits for Sheriff and jury proceedings into line with the limits already prescribed by the High Court. In addition, provisions in the Act will prevent the accused being tried on indictment in the Sheriff Court where the first diet is not commenced within 11 months of the first appearance on petition; and also provides that an accused person must be liberated after 110 days if no first diet has been held, and after 140 days if a first diet has been held, unless the trial begins within that period.
Employment tribunal fees
The Scottish Government strongly opposed the introduction of employment tribunal fees on the basis that it restricts access to justice and creates a financial barrier for legitimate claims. Since fees were introduced there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of cases being taken forward. Ministry of Justice statistics released in September 2016 show a two thirds reduction in single claims in the first half of 2016 compared to the same period in 2013.
Section 39 of the Scotland Act 2016 allows for the transfer of administration and operation of employment tribunals. In its 2015 PfG, the Scottish Government committed to abolishing employment tribunal fees once it is clear how this transfer of powers and responsibilities will work. Following commitments in both the Labour Market Strategy and the 2016-17 PfG to work with stakeholders to help frame how the Scottish Government can best use new powers around employment tribunals, an Employment Tribunal Stakeholders' Forum has been established. The Forum met for the first time on 11 January 2017.
Email: David Holmes
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House