The Scottish Government’s 2024-25 Budget continues its distorted and shortsighted approach to criminal justice, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

The Budget papers reveal an extra £22 million has been provided to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), while the forecast legal aid spend will rise by just 0.13% from £156.3m to £156.5m.

The papers reveal the extra funding for COPFS “will support the continued recovery of the court system from the backlogs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the reduction of waiting times for justice”. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has also received a significant funding boost.

Law Society of Scotland President Sheila Webster said: “Our criminal justice system is crying out for a funding injection to address the longstanding courts backlog and ensure proper access to justice. But what’s been announced in this budget will only further distort the longstanding imbalance that’s left the system in crisis.

“Our legal aid providers are once again being left to survive on a few crumbs, while the other key elements of our criminal justice system are being funded far more generously. Starving criminal defence while feeding the prosecution is not what natural justice looks like.

“The crisis facing legal aid in Scotland is nothing new, but each decision like this makes it more likely that the system will be damaged beyond repair. How can the courts backlog be addressed by giving more money to the prosecution while ignoring the defence?

“The Scottish Government must take a holistic approach to our justice system, recognising that starving any part of the system will lead to delays and mean that the most vulnerable people in our society are denied access to justice.

“Civil legal aid is being starved just as badly as the criminal side, meaning that vulnerable people facing legal problems related to their families, housing or work are also being locked out of the system.”

Sheila Webster

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