Every year we lay our annual report before the Scottish Parliament and publish it on our website. The Annual Report and Accounts includes performance and accountability reports as well as the financial statements.

Our most recent Annual Report and Accounts is available to download below, as well as any associated documents such as the key statistics and fees paid to the legal profession.

Please contact us by email if you are looking for older reports.

2020-21 Annual Report and Accounts

The following is a summary of our Annual Report and Accounts for 2020-21.

Please see the links below for the full downloadable report, key statistics, profession earnings and the news release.

2020-21: How the Legal Aid Fund was spent

The cash table at page 34 of the Annual Report details cash spend for legal aid, as this is the basis on which funding is received from the Scottish Government. The charts here relate to that cash spend.

A pie chart showing a breakdown of the annual cost to the Legal aid fund in cash spend. Costs were as follows: Judicare £91.6 million, direct services £4.4 million, other, comprising of £3.2 million in grant funding and £0.15 million in quality assurance and peer review.

Judicare: Civil Legal Assistance

Civil judicare funding was distributed to support people in the following case types.

Civil legal assistance continues to be dominated by family disputes, both in payments and in new cases started.

Reparation and medical negligence payments increased slightly this year. These cases tend to be of longer duration and so payments in this year are less likely to be impacted by changes in advice sought in these areas this year.

Many housing cases (part of the Social Welfare category) have been delayed due to policy decisions taken by Government to prevent homelessness during the pandemic, and so payments in this area of law fell. Similarly, AWI cases (guardianship applications for Adults with Incapacity) were not needed in the same volume as the Government postponed some requirements around renewals.

Spend on immigration and asylum cases was 22% of civil judicare spend – expenditure in this area is influenced by case numbers which are in turn impacted by general geo-political trends and immigration patterns.

The cost of delivery of judicare for social welfare cases (mental health, housing, homelessness, debt, discrimination and others) is supplemented by our grant funding and Civil Legal Assistance Offices (CLAO) services which focus on similar broad social welfare law themes.

The number of firms receiving payment for civil legal assistance reduced to 510 from 552 the previous year (8%).

Judicare: Criminal Legal Assistance

Criminal judicare funding was distributed in the following aid types.

The number of firms receiving payment for provision of criminal legal services, reduced from 438 to 402 (8%).

There was a reduction in payments in all aid types, but it was particularly significant in solemn work which fell from £33.1m to £19.6m – down 41%. Although the courts implemented recovery arrangements to keep the criminal justice system operating, there was an inevitable slowdown in business concluding in court, particularly due to the challenges of running trials. The conclusion of a case in court is the normally trigger for the submission of the main account for payment.

Children’s Legal Assistance

Children’s Legal Assistance was distributed in the following aid types.

The number of firms receiving payment for provision of children’s legal services reduced from 264 to 245 (7%).

2020-21: Administration of Legal Aid

Our administration budget is distributed across three main Directorates and a central team comprising the office of the Principal Legal Advisor which provides legal support and advice across the organisation.

Our main cost centres are related to activity to consider applications and accounts we receive and supporting activity; and corporate services to support the organisation. This includes our own in-house technical team to support and develop our Legal Aid Online platform as the main interface with solicitors for application and account processing.

2020-21: Operational performance analysis

To assess performance in applications we use the following key indicators:

  • time to take the first decision (First decision average duration)
  • the percent of applications we can grant first time (First decision % granted)
  • the level of rework that is required (% First decision with subsequent further work).

 

The equivalent indicators in accounts are:

  • time to pay an initial account (Average calendar days to bank)
  • the percent of accounts we pay in full (% paid in full)
  • the level of negotiation that is required (Ratio of negotiations to initial assessments).

 

Our reporting on the indicators we use can be found in the SOPOR (SLAB Operational Performance Overview Report). The SOPOR for March 2021 presents the performance for the whole 12 months of 2020-21. The effect of the pandemic in reducing volumes across aid types must be acknowledged, particularly in criminal applications.

Civil applications performance has met or exceeded all the benchmarks set for the indicators throughout the whole year.

Criminal applications performance has been good with solemn meeting or exceeding the benchmark throughout the whole year and summary exceeding the benchmark from July onwards.

Children’s has consistently met or exceeded benchmarks.

In civil accounts the benchmarks in average calendar days to bank and the percentage of accounts paid in full met or exceeded benchmarks. The level of negotiation was more mixed, but benchmarks were met and exceeded throughout most of the year and consistently so in the final five months.

Criminal accounts overall met or exceeded benchmarks although in the final two months of the year there was an increase in the duration of negotiations as firms were negotiating on older cases as a result of the impact of Covid-19.

Children’s accounts have consistently exceeded benchmarks. However, as with criminal accounts, negotiations increase in duration in some months due to firms negotiating on older cases. The ratio of negotiations to initial assessment benchmark was changed from 19.3% to 35% in April 2020. This benchmark was met or exceeded in all but one month.

In previous years the performance analysis has been supplemented by regular satisfaction surveys of the profession. These were not carried out in 2020/21 as it was felt that it would be an unnecessary burden on firms dealing with the impact of the pandemic. These resumed in mid-2021.

Summary

The pandemic has disrupted the flow of applications and accounts on which we take decisions. Overall volumes have decreased, but activity in some case types has remained steady or indeed increased. This assisted us in meeting or exceeding our benchmarks for operational performance across all areas, despite the shift to homeworking and the inevitable interruptions to the working day from home schooling and other caring responsibilities during lockdowns. Where temporary reductions in volumes resulted in any spare capacity, this was used to make good progress on improvement activity, including staff training, systems development and work on the GALA project.

Operational performance overview reports for 2020-21 and the previous year are available on our website.

2020-21: Performance against our Strategic Objectives

Strategic Objective 1: Deliver a high quality user focused service

This objective is about building the delivery of our services around an understanding of what applicants for legal assistance need. We are developing specific policies and plans with our users in mind, including applicants, solicitors and advocates.

At the outset of the pandemic, we developed and implemented a four point plan to assist the profession deliver advice remotely by phone or video call to clients, and to reduce some of the requirements on solicitors. The plan drew heavily on discussions with solicitor representative groups and on submissions made to a special feedback email which we established to gather ideas and information about the problems solicitors were encountering as they worked to maintain a legal aid service to carry out essential work for people. This four-point plan resulted in us:

  • introducing a fillable fields Word version of the Civil Legal Aid financial form to support remote delivery of advice
  • revising our approach to the collection of debt, including a three-month payment break for those struggling to make payments
  • accepting applications without a client’s signature, eased timescales for submission of applications and information requirements, and reduced the requirements of proof of clients’ eligibility for A&A and ABWOR
  • suspending compliance audits and peer review quality assurance schemes for criminal and children’s legal aid
  • allowing solicitors to obtain and submit financial verification in alternative ways.

Working closely with colleagues in the Scottish Government, policy changes were introduced to allow solicitors to release work-in-progress in new and existing cases to support their cash flow during the year by:

  • introducing interim payments for summary criminal fixed payments (incl. ABWOR) and A&A/ABWOR
  • extending interim payment provisions for solicitors and counsel in civil, children’s and solemn criminal proceedings – 63% of active civil firms and 47% of active criminal firms used these interim payment schemes.

Changes were also made to support measures to reduce the number of solicitors who needed to attend court by:

  • adjusting the position on appointed solicitor in criminal ABWOR to allow for delegation to another and also to be able to delegate to duty solicitor
  • creation of a fee structure for written representations where they directly replace the need for any oral hearing.

The legal aid applications and accounts system is an online system, with a solicitor facing LAOL portal (the Legal Aid Online System) and an internal case management system. These systems help us manage the volumes of applications and accounts we receive and provides us with management information. Seemingly simple changes to the way legal aid applications or accounts are processed can require Information Systems development time to make the system work for solicitors. The changes which were made to support changes in the applications and accounts system to support the legal aid system during lockdown and beyond, relied heavily on IS development and diverted resources from some of our ongoing systems development work.

Despite this unplanned and urgent work, planned activity on business plan projects has delivered improvements to the service we provide or has put in place improvements which will lead to improved service to our users.

Strategic Objective 2: Embed ways of working across the organisation that enhance the quality, consistency and transparency of our decisions and delivery

This objective is about improving the consistency and transparency of our decision making, meaning that it will be easier for people to anticipate and understand our decisions.

We are making progress in providing people with a simple explanation of how we manage the legal aid system, increasing their ability to hold us to account. Two main areas of activity throughout the year has been in two large projects – the Guidance on Administration of Legal Aid (GALA) project and Designing a New Working Environment (DANWE) project.

GALA

We have reviewed a range of our policies and operational processes with the aim of making them simpler, appropriately impact assessed and with a closer alignment to our Board’s approach to risk. We have delivered:

— A simplified Interests of Justice (IoJ) application process for summary criminal legal assistance and ABWOR was developed and went live on 22 March 2021. This was consulted on in October 2020 and removes a significant administrative burden for solicitors seeking legal aid for summary criminal cases in the sheriff court.

— Policy statements, solicitor guidance and decision makers’ guidance on special urgency for criminal appeals, summary criminal legal aid and solemn criminal legal aid were developed and published.

— Development and launch of a new website where all current decision makers’ guidance is hosted. This includes the new products on special urgency. The website is primarily for the use of SLAB staff but is also available to our customers and the profession, so that the guidance to staff on making decisions is transparent.

— Another 14 decision sets covering decisions we take in children’s and civil, criminal legal aid and in accounts have been developed and will be launched in 21-22.

We have undertaken extensive policy development work to review our policies in two of our most complex decision sets: the application of the financial assessment tests across all aid types and the application of the taxation standard in accounts assessment. Consultation on these will be launched in 2021-22 and will invite stakeholder views on potential equality impacts and opportunities to advance equality of opportunity. Early stakeholder engagement in both has helped inform our policy development and consultation approach.

DANWE

Throughout 2020 and 2021 we worked to facilitate the move from office to homeworking, putting in place appropriate health and safety controls for those staff who needed to deliver services in courts and police stations.

We have also been preparing for the post-pandemic working environment through the Designing a New Working Environment (DANWE) project. The DANWE project is key to the delivery of our employee related equality outcome that ‘SLAB employees maintain good mental and physical health during the Covid-19 pandemic and recovery phase’.

We are currently undertaking a repeat of our normal staff survey which contains some key measures for this workstream and outcome. Frequent, short DANWE staff surveys have provided some key insights into how our people are coping with new working arrangements and preferences for the future. These will inform our ongoing Covid-19 recovery planning. Staff engagement has already prompted a range of wellbeing initiatives, including specific support for managers to hold wellbeing discussions with their staff.

We have also commenced an extensive people policies review process. This will use a policy development review process for people polices that was developed and piloted during 2020-21.

Strategic Objective 3: Engage with users and delivery partners across the legal aid and justice system to inform good design of our system and services

This objective is about our engagement with the themes in the review of legal aid. What we are able to deliver will align with Scottish Government’s policy direction for legal aid. Our key priorities under this objective are our work on reviewing our approach to financial assessment, making more explicit the rules for assessment of accounts, and working with others to develop advice for Scottish Government on fee and eligibility structures, which are both fair and easier to understand and operate.

A focus on users and good understanding of their needs is a key part of delivering this objective, but it is also about our engagement with other parts of the justice system on the legal aid implications of their policies, procedures and reforms, or the impact of legal aid changes on other parts of the system. We will engage with others where we have an interest and always with a view to protecting the interests of users of legal aid, including by pressing for consideration of user needs and appropriate impact assessment in any justice reform process.

Recover, Renew, Transform

SLAB has worked closely with justice sector partners in the Recover, Renew, Transform programme established by the Scottish Government. The strategy is aimed at creating a sustainable and resilient model for the operation of police custody, the courts, prisons and community justice in a post Covid-19 environment, within public health guidelines and which can manage both ongoing business and the significant backlog that has already built up.

Legal Aid Payment Advisory Panel

SLAB has participated fully in the Legal Aid Payment Advisory Panel, which was set up following the legal aid review as an expert panel to advise on an evidence-based approach to reviewing payment structures and levels for legal aid services.

In our role managing the legal aid system we have a joint interest with legal professionals that those payment arrangements help support a strong legal aid sector for the benefit of the public and simplify the payment process where possible.

The Panel’s report has now been published and sets out the range of evidence and information it considered, the key issues raised, conclusions reached by the group and recommendations made in line with the remit and objectives. We fully support its conclusions and recommendations, including that fair remuneration levels and structures are essential to the continued effective operation of the legal aid system.

Further actions are suggested that could be taken to improve the current system of payment and how to build the evidence needed to develop an evidence guided process for fee setting and regular payment reviews in the future. We welcome this approach for Government, the professions and SLAB to work together to build a transparent system which can monitor how the market is operating, assess the health of the sector, and identify when, where and in what form investment may be required to support the delivery of advice to those who need it.

The full report is available on the Scottish Government’s website.

2020-21 Annual Report and Accounts documents

File Type Size
2020-21 SLAB Annual Report and Accounts 2 MB | 16 December 2021 PDF 2 MB
SLAB Annual Report News Release 2020 21 118 KB | 17 December 2021 PDF 118 KB
SLAB Annual Report 2020-21 - Appendix 1: Key Statistics 94 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 94 KB
Advocate earnings 2020-21 - Top 20 460 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 460 KB
Advocate earnings 2020-21 - Alphabetical Order 491 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 491 KB
Firm earnings 2020-21 - Top 20 413 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 413 KB
Firm earnings 2020-21 - Alphabetical Order 760 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 760 KB
Solicitor Advocate earnings 2020-21 - Top 20 554 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 554 KB
Solicitor Advocate earnings 2020-21 - Alphabetical Order 453 KB | 16 December 2021 PDF 453 KB

2019-20 Annual Report and Accounts documents

File Type Size
2019 20 SLAB Annual Report and Accounts 2 MB | 26 November 2020 PDF 2 MB
SLAB Annual Report News Release 2020 121 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 121 KB
SLAB Annual Report 2019 20 Appendix 1 Key Statistics 92 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 92 KB
Solicitor Advocate earnings 2019 20 Top 20 70 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 70 KB
Solicitor Advocate earnings 2019 20 Alphabetical Order 507 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 507 KB
Firm earnings 2019 2020 Top 20 63 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 63 KB
Firm earnings 2019 2020 Alphabetical Order 754 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 754 KB
Advocates earnings 2019 2020 Top 20 67 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 67 KB
Advocates earnings 2019 2020 Alphabetical Order 507 KB | 26 November 2020 PDF 507 KB

2018-2019 Annual Report and Accounts

File Type Size
2018 19 SLAB Annual Report and Accounts 1 MB | 27 September 2019 PDF 1 MB
Annual Report News Release 2019 85 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 85 KB
SLAB Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics 348 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 348 KB
SLAB Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics Charts 106 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 106 KB
Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics Diagrams 433 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 433 KB
Advocate earnings table 2018 19 Top 20 223 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 223 KB
Advocate earnings table 2018 19 Alphabetical Order 272 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 272 KB
Firm Earnings 2018 19 Top 20 227 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 227 KB
Firm Earnings 2018 19 Alphabetical Order 575 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 575 KB
Firm Earnings distribution charts 211 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 211 KB
Solicitor Advocates Earnings Table 2018 2019 Top 20 230 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 230 KB
Solicitor Advocates Earnings Table 2018 2019 Alphabetical Order 232 KB | 27 September 2019 PDF 232 KB