Legal aid changes will deny most vulnerable

Proposed changes to Legal Aid will deny justice to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Proposals put forward by the Law Society of Scotland to remove some aspects of housing law from Legal Aid cover have prompted grave concerns.

Housing law impacts disproportionately on the most vulnerable families and individuals, and removing housing from the portfolio of protection would deny access to justice to those most in need.

The proposals require an urgent rethink to ensure protection and justice for all – especially as removing housing law from Legal Aid is likely to cost the public purse more, not less.

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said:

“In 21st Century Scotland justice should be afforded to all, not just those who can afford it.

“We have grave concerns about the proposal to remove housing law from the scope of civil legal assistance. In Shelter Scotland’s experience housing law impacts disproportionately on the most vulnerable in society and this proposal would remove protection currently offered to them.

“What’s more, it is a false economy to assume a saving to the public purse in not providing Legal Aid to those experiencing housing issues. In fact any apparent savings would likely be outweighed by the costs of increased homelessness or the negative health implications.”

Graeme Brown added: “Housing law is an extremely complex issue and as such appropriate specialist advice from qualified legal professionals should and must be made available to everyone who needs it.”

If housing law is removed from the scope of civil legal assistance, there must be a guarantee of sufficient funding to those who need legal assistance with housing issues. Funding is required for advice agencies providing representation on all aspects of housing law, and there must be suitable access to advice agencies in all areas of Scotland.