In 1997 the Labour Party Manifesto contained
a commitment to improve access to justice for disadvantaged people
by introducing a Community Legal Service (CLS). Initial Scottish
proposals were widely criticised and the issue was neglected until
recently. Meanwhile, the Community Legal Service has progressed
in England and Wales with regional funding committees awarding
contracts or franchises to private, public or voluntary organisations
that bid for funds to tackle unmet legal need.
Existing services are a dangerous mix between
examples of best and worst possible practice with some areas isolated
from any form of service provision. Civil legal aid rules mean
that only the very rich and the very poor have effective access
to the legal profession. People with income just above benefits
are effectively excluded from civil legal aid. Unlike
Criminal legal aid, spending on civil legal aid
has been in free fall for many years as the stringent restrictions
block the majority of would-be claimants.
In the public and voluntary sector there is no
statutory duty to provide welfare law services. Aside from income
maximisation, services on employment immigration and discrimination
issues are woefully inadequate.
In September 2000 the non-profit advice providers
came together and published a manifesto for the Community Legal
Service. The Scottish Executive's response was to set up a working
group with a broad range of representatives from public, private
and voluntary sectors
Findings of the Working Group:
· It is vital to analyse patterns of demand for
services to ensure that new services are designed to meet unmet
· There should be a dedicated national budget
for information provision including a directory of general and
· There should be a co-ordinating body, although
it would sit alongside existing providers and not emerge as a
· Organisations should commit to participate
in an effective referral system in which referrals are actively
managed rather than shunted to another provider.
· Quality standards should be agreed and rigorously
enforced. This would cover defined adviser competence, service
access, monitoring and review and remedial action as required.
· Specialist second-tier organisations would
promote training and casework in areas of specific need such as
employment, housing and discrimination.
· Services should be free at the point of access
although contributions may still be required for some legal services.
· Further consideration should be given to the
funding method whether it is contracts, franchises etc. In any
event, measures should be taken to ensure that CLS funding is
additional and does not displace existing funding sources.
The key recommendation relates to the development
phase which is now underway. Research projects have been identified
and there are pilot projects in Edinburgh, Glasgow, West Lothian
and the Highlands and Islands. Once this phase is evaluated, the
CLS will begin to emerge in its final form in 18 months time.
Discussion Points for Unison Members:
Unison is in a distinctive position in relation
to the emerging CLS. Obviously many members will be service users
at the local lawyer, law centre or CAB. As a union, Unison represents
many members in advice work in the public and voluntary sectors.
Finally, Unison is probably the largest non-profit provider of
advice and information in Scotland. It is disappointing that the
discussions so far have not included a trade union perspective.
However, the Unison Scotland Justice Policy Pool has made contact
with the Scottish Executive and would welcome contributions from
staff and members as policy is developed in this area.
· Should Legal Aid be used to fund welfare rights
and similar services?
· Should local authorities have a statutory duty
to provide welfare rights advice?
· What should be the relationship between public, private and
voluntary sector providers?