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Urgent plea for Legal Aid reform in Scotland: Human rights consortium appeals to UN Committee

Urgent plea for Legal Aid reform in Scotland: Human rights consortium appeals to UN Committee


Human Rights Consortium Scotland urges UN Human Rights Committee to question the Scottish Government on the critical need for legal aid reform

This week, Human Rights Consortium Scotland will address the United Nations Human Rights Committee, shedding light on the formidable challenges faced by individuals seeking remedies for human rights violations in Scotland. The focal point of their appeal is the urgent necessity for legal aid reform.

In the coming weeks, the Committee will release recommendations to the UK Government, including the Scottish Government, playing a pivotal role in fostering accountability, guiding policy and legal reforms, and enhancing human rights standards domestically and internationally. Serving as a crucial mechanism for ensuring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, these recommendations provide specific guidance on necessary improvements in civil and political rights.

Access to justice in Scotland has become a growing concern, with numerous obstacles outlined in reports based on individuals' experiences, law centre casework, and engagements with human rights organisations. Challenges include a lack of accessible information about human rights and remedies, limited availability of comprehensive legal advice, insufficient independent advocacy, a complex justice system, a dearth of non-court routes to justice, limited powers of Scotland's National Human Rights Institution, and financial barriers.

Of particular concern is the state of the legal aid system in Scotland, deemed to be in dire need of reform. Alarming statistics from a 2022 report by the Law Society of Scotland highlight the critical issues:

  • Out of the 139 most deprived communities in Scotland, 122 lack civil legal aid firms.
  • These communities share only 29 civil legal aid firms among them.
  • Nearly 90,000 people across these communities lack local access to civil legal aid.
  • Legal aid fees agreed in 1999 have increased by only 10%, while inflation has surged by 55%.
  • The number of lawyers willing to take legal aid cases has significantly reduced, particularly in specialised areas such as immigration, environmental, and human rights law.

Despite promises of legal aid reform and multiple reviews and consultations by the Scottish Government, there has been no consultation on a draft bill, and no commitment to a much-needed reform timeline.

In light of this inaction, Human Rights Consortium Scotland poses critical questions to the UN to ask of the Scottish Government:

  1. Will the Scottish Government significantly improve access to justice in their upcoming human rights law reform, and will they provide regular progress reports?
  2. Will the Scottish Government prioritise the reform of Legal Aid, with a consultation published on necessary legislative changes in 2024?

Human Rights Consortium Scotland emphasises that reform is not merely desirable but necessary to ensure the protection of human rights for all in Scotland.

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