Streamlining is one of three strands of work that the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, asked SLAB to carry out as part of a review of the government’s strategy for legal aid. More information
Reducing our administration costs
Our administrative budget was frozen at the 2007/08 level for four years. It was then reduced in 2011-2012 by £1.1m. The Scottish Government’s spending plans for the period 2012-2013 to 2014-2015 set out further reductions in our administration budget over the next three years, totalling £1.3m. This challenge is heightened by inflationary pressure, additional responsibilities such as the implementation of the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and the Legal Serivces (Scotland) Act 2010, and by the need to utilise staff resource to deliver on our commitment to a wide range of developments associated with delivery of legal aid savings and other legislative changes. To live within these reduced budgets, we continue to rely on digitisation of our processes to reduce staff numbers which, along with a pay freeze, will reduce staff costs. In addition, we will continue to seek reductions in our running costs, particularly by continued and effective and collaborative procurement and by sharing servcies.
Best value review of the use and cost of outlays
We have been reviewing the cost to the legal aid fund of outlays to identify ways of reducing the cost. This has included standardising the payment rates for the work done by interpreters and translators and also reviewing the rates paid for solicitors’ travel time. In February 2011, the Scottish Government revised the rates paid to solicitors for time spent travelling. In May 2011, we introduced arrangements relating to reimbursement of fees and associated costs payable for interpreting and translation of foreign language costs. These arrangements have worked well.
We are currently working on reviewing experts fees. We initially changed arrangements for payment of psychiatric reports in mental health cases in October 2011. We worked with the other UK legal aid jurisdictions to identify opportunities to control and reduce the costs of experts more generally.
A consultation on outlays was carried out .
Implementation of the Welfare Reform Act 2011
This Act of the UK Parliament will abolish Income Support, Job-Seekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance i.e. the passport benefits. It will also abolish Disability Living Allowance and Housing Benefit. The benefits will all be replaced with a Universal Credit which is a combined in-work credit and out-of-work benefit. This is likely to have a major impact on the way that we assess eligibility for legal aid, particularly as we currently ‘passport’ individuals due to the named benefit that they receive. We are working with the Scottish Government, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the other UK legal aid bodies to clarify how the DWP intend to introduce the new system. It will be a phased introduction across the country which began in April 2013 for small numbers of new claimants in some areas of England.
Additional responsibilities arising from the Legal Service (Scotland) Act 2010
The Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010 ("the 2010 Act") gave us the function of advising Scottish Ministers on the availability and accessibility of legal services in Scotland. To assist us to meet the requirements of the 2010 Act, we convene the Access to Legal Services Reference Group, consisting of a number of bodies with an interest in access to advice and legal services. We have developed a scope, terms of reference and work schedule for the group; and have invited a number of organisations to sit on the group, which now meets regularly.
The 2010 Act also transfers to SLAB from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates the power to prevent solicitors or advocates from providing legal aid. Having consulted with the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates, we have developed procedures to support the exercise of this function.
Making Justice Work
We are a key partner in the Scottish Government’s Making Justice Work Programme – part of the wider Justice Change programme. Making Justice Work involves collaboration between a range of justice organisations working on projects across civil and criminal justice to improve the Scottish justice system, making it fairer, more accessible and efficient. The programme will make substantial savings in expenditure across the justice system. Our Chief Executive is a member of the cross organisational group, the Justice Working Group, chaired by the Scottish Government that monitors the programme’s progress and our senior staff are involved in, and in some cases lead, the component projects.
We are leading the Making Justice Work project to make greater use of video conferencing for: solicitors’ advice to clients in prison and suspects in police stations; and for suitable court proceedings. The aim is that video conferencing will reduce the need for solicitors and others paid through legal aid to travel unless it is absolutely necessary. It will also reduce the need for prisoners to be transferred between prisons and courts for court hearings. Overall, this will contribute to a reduction in vehicular emissions and the carbon impact of legal aid expenditure.
Managing the carbon impact of our operations
SLAB is committed to reducing the environmental impact of its own operations. This includes better use of our assets, for example, the amount of heat, light and water we use through our buildings and encouraging our staff to travel to work through public or active transport. We have already made significant progress and have achieved significant reductions in our CO2 emissions.
We will continue making our operations more sustainable over the coming years. A part of this work, we recently graduated from the Carbon Trust's Carbon Managment Programme. The programme supports organisations to design, develop and deliver short, medium and long term plans that will reduce their level of greenhouse gas emissions. We are currently finalising our carbon managment plan for publication.
Public bodies also have obligations under the recently enacted Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Bodies must exercise their functions in a way that will best contribute to the Scottish Government’s targets for emissions reductions. The Scottish Government published guidance on the obligations in February 2011.