Legal Aid: A national treasure?

Yearly, as SLAB publishes its annual report on legal aid expenditure, the press likes to highlight the highest paid individuals and firms from the criminal legal aid budget. The legal aid budget is rightly a matter of public comment as it involves public money, but even though some individuals earn at the higher end of the scale, most do not. Legal Aid is a very bureaucratic system and since it went online most of the bureaucracy falls to be dealt with by the firms applying for legal aid on behalf of their clients. This work is not paid for and has no doubt saved the scheme a sizeable sum since its introduction. The wider point, though, is whether the public treasures legal aid or begrudges its cost? The Law Society of Scotland has published a poll, conducted for it by Ipsos MORI, in which 83% of the public polled (n1000) expressed concern that if the legal aid budget is cut, the poorest members of society would be worst affected, 81% agreed that legal aid is a price worth paying for, regardless of cost, and only 10% thought that legal aid is a waste of public money. There are some important changes to the whole justice system under contemplation at present and it is vital that the public is engaged with these, and doesn’t perceive the debates as ones in which legal experts are simply trying to preserve their own self-interest. This small but significant survey, in which legal aid is identified as something of a national treasure, offers evidence that principles of justice are, in fact, highly valued in society. The report is available here