Access to justice is important. I have blogged on the topic previously (click through the tag below, if you are interested) and dabbled with it in my writing (such as this note in the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland and the occasional book review). It has also featured in my academic practice, by introducing students to the notion and through encouraging and facilitating student activities that address access to justice issues. It now features in a slightly different aspect of my professional life, as a new member of the Access to Justice Committee of the Law Society of Scotland.
I have only attended one meeting thus far, so it is still “early doors”. That said, some things have cropped up already. The most time-critical thing is a response to a Scottish Government consultation, on Scottish court fees. This closes on 12 January 2018.
In the landing page for the consultation, this following is stated. “It is necessary to increase fees in line with inflation in order to continue to achieve full cost recovery.” The necessity of full cost recovery – that is to say, users of a service paying for it so as to leave no cost on the state – is not made out.
There is an argument to be had about this. To some, justice is one of those things that cannot really be categorised like other commodities (this being something that was discussed in the UK Supreme Court in the UNISON v Lord Chancellor  UKSC 51 case (about employment tribunal fees)). I note Consumer Focus Scotland does not support full cost recovery (PDF). Without claiming to speak for the Law Society of Scotland in this post (but see this contribution from one committee to a previous consultation (PDF)), there are some in the profession who are sceptical of the policy.
Those views notwithstanding, it can be acknowledged that the Scottish Government has been moving towards full cost recovery since at least 2008 (in terms of this motion), and further that the Scottish Government is not particularly minded to have any argument about this, at least in parliament anyway (PDF). That backdrop suggests this is a policy that is not ripe for review. Regardless, watch this space for the response from the Access to Justice Committee on this consultation in particular and full cost recovery as a whole.
I will conclude by noting one other thing that has cropped up quite separately to my appointment, namely this research on the effectiveness of legal aid. My lack of involvement (i.e. I did not commission the research or undertake the research itself) means I can be semi-objective when I observe that it deserves a wide audience, within and outwith Scotland. Those in England and Wales, where legal aid has been slightly more emasculated in comparison to Scotland, might be particularly interested.
If anyone is interested in the work of the access to justice committee or wishes to contact me about it, here are its aims and objectives:
- promote access to justice for the public
- identify barriers to access to justice and, where possible, work alone or with others to identify or implement solutions
- monitor the supply of publicly funded legal assistance across Scotland, encouraging greater coordination of services
- identify opportunities to promote pro bono work
- build the Society’s relationship with law centres, Part V solicitors, and other advice providers
- examine how a range of funding sources for, and providers of, legal advice can be encouraged
- liaise and negotiate with external organisations, such as Scottish Government, Citizens Advice and others
- collaborate with other LSS committees, including Civil Justice, the Civil Legal Aid Negotiating Team, Mental Health and Disability, Equality and Diversity and Human Rights and Discrimination
This is the fourth of my reflective blog posts on 2017. The first was on my involvement with the Juridical Review (available here), the second related to some research projects to do with Scottish smallholdings and interventions in land markets (available here), and the third related to deer.
UPDATE 29 January 2018
The consultation response is available here (PDF).