Figures have revealed that Scotland’s legal aid bill increased to more than £150m last year. This is an increase on 2% from the previous year and brought spending up to the second highest ever level, reports BBC News.
Criminal cases accounted for nearly two thirds of the total. The cost of civil legal aid increased for the first time in three years.
Donald Findlay QC topped the list for legal aid payments made to advocates, receiving £358,400 including VAT.
Glasgow-based law firm Ross Harper topped the solicitors’ legal aid earnings list at £1.732m including VAT.
Top-earning solicitor advocate was Iain Paterson, of Paterson Bell Solicitors, who received £219,300 including VAT.
Last year’s increased costs came despite a fall in the number of solicitors providing legal aid.
TOP FIVE ADVOCATES
1 Donald Findlay QC £358,400
2 Ian M Duguid QC £321,600
3 Edgar Prais QC £272,500
4 Mhairi R Richards QC £269,800
5 Paul G McBride QC £237,800
The figures were disclosed in the annual report of the Scottish Legal Aid Board.
The report coincided with new proposals from the board and the Scottish Government to change the way solicitors are paid for legal aid in summary or less serious cases.
Under the proposals there will be a “substantial” increase in payments to lawyers in the early stages of a case, with lesser increases for cases going to trial.
This is intended to save money overall, as the present system is said to favour not guilty pleas which are changed at a later stage.
The £150m cost to the taxpayer was made up of £106.6m on criminal cases, £39m on civil cases and £4.5m on children’s legal assistance and contempt of court cases.
Last year’s increase in the cost of criminal legal aid was said to be due to higher numbers of cases, in particular a higher number of costly serious cases.
Legal aid was granted in 13,898 serious and 82,686 less serious cases, the highest-ever numbers.