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.
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.