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 are 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.
The following is a summary of our Annual Report and Accounts for 2019-20.
Please see the links below for the full downloadable report, key statistics, profession earnings and the news release.
The cash table at page 17 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.
Civil judicare funding was distributed to support people in the following case types.
Legal services trying to resolve problems flowing on from relationship breakdown represent 45% of gross expenditure (contact and residence disputes, divorce and other relationship breakdown legal problems).
Immigration and asylum represents 21% of expenditure and funds legal services for those seeking asylum and others before the First Tier and Upper Tribunals of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. Expenditure in this and other categories is influenced by case numbers, duration and complexity. In May 2019 it was reported that the UK government had dropped a target to deal with most asylum cases within six months. As credibility has been the primary reason for the Home Office refusing leave to remain in the UK, firms are spending more time ensuring the evidential information provided by the client is conveyed accurately in the documentation/application. This has an impact on costs.
Reparation claims (including medical negligence cases), legal advice and representation around guardianship for Adults with Incapacity and a broad grouping of social welfare law topics and related remedies (mental health, housing, homelessness, judicial review, discrimination, and others) each account for around 8-9% of judicare expenditure. As a supplement to judicare funding on social welfare law grant funding and CLAO services are focussed largely on the broad social welfare law themes.
552 firms received payment for provision of civil legal services.
Criminal judicare funding was distributed in the following aid types.
A total of 438 firms received payment for provision of criminal legal services.
Solemn legal aid, which is for representation in jury trials either in the Sheriff Court or High court, is the single biggest area of expenditure.
Summary and ABWOR are for representation in the summary courts (where there is no jury). Summary is the aid type for people who are pleading not guilty whilst ABWOR is available to support someone pleading guilty but who is still in need of representation.
Children’s Legal Assistance was distributed in the following aid types.
A total of 264 firms received payment for provision of children’s legal services. Expenditure was slightly higher for representation when proceedings reach Court, but 46% of expenditure was for representation of parents, other relevant persons or children at a children’s hearing.
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 including 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.
At the beginning of this corporate planning period, we set a fresh mission to transform how we deliver our functions and to advise Scottish Ministers on strategic development of publicly funded legal services for the benefit of society.
We embarked on an important programme to strengthen our decision making systems and processes to make it easier for us to carry out our role, easier for solicitors to work with us, and easier for the public to understand what they can expect from legal aid and to navigate the process.
This last year has been the final year of the 2017-20 plan.
Legal aid and wider justice system policy is the responsibility of central government but we have an important role in advising on the impacts of change on our specific role and the services we fund.
Progress has been made this year on work to influence and support Scottish Government’s future design of the legal aid and justice system.
We continued to progress work flowing from the Scottish Government’s legal aid review. Our response to the Government’s consultation set out a range of potential different legal aid models that the Scottish Government could adopt to meet the aims set out in the review.
The legal aid review was also the backdrop to our involvement in the Scottish Government’s legal aid payment advisory panel which is tasked with reviewing the payment mechanisms for legal aid.
We assess all accounts for legal services funded by legal aid; it is a complex task, both for us and the profession.
We have a clear interest in the development of a range of payment models that support the development and delivery of high quality services directed towards people’s needs and which can be administered quickly, simply and accurately by both us and legal services providers.
We have provided a range of evidence and other inputs to the panel and we look forward to further contributing to the panel’s conclusions and working with Scottish Government to take forward any reforms that emerge.
There will be more for us to do in this regard in the coming corporate planning cycle. The complexity of reforms through the legal aid review, payment panel and the wider justice system has been compounded as the justice system and the means of advising, supporting and representing people are having to adapt to COVID-19 and prepare for the post COVID-19 world. Work on these major themes will continue.
In our work on both the legal aid review and the payment panel we are working with others to use our experience and evidence-base to identify options for change and assess their impacts with a view to helping shape the future design of the system we manage. In addition to this external and future focused work, our programme this year has also had an emphasis on work we can do now to transform our existing decision making functions.
We have prioritised our most complex project work which will be key to the future design and delivery of our role in the legal aid system. The GALA project (Guidance on Administration of Legal Aid) is a multi-year endeavour and aims to improve our internal decision making framework, helping ensure the consistency and transparency of our decision making in applications for legal aid funding and payment of accounts.
Such is the complexity of the legal aid schemes that the policy framework we have developed this year – as the central organising structure for our future decision making – includes around 160 separate types of decision. Our review and reframing of the framework for operational decision making is an opportunity to review our operational policies – how we apply the rules set out in the legislation and regulations – and, flowing from that, our guidance both for solicitors and our own decision makers.
As part of this process, we have are taking the opportunity to make more explicit and transparent the link between our decision making and our public sector equalities duty. To support that we have also developed changes to the collection of data in our application systems to encourage greater disclosure of equalities characteristics for applicants.
A key output from the GALA project this year has been a complete overhaul and restructuring of the information contained in the legal aid handbook, now accessible with new advanced indexing and search tools on our redesigned website.
Unfortunately, our focus on a small number of major projects has meant that some shorter term projects with obvious and tangible outcomes, such as the development of new PDSO/CLAO case management systems, did not progress as far or as fast as we planned. Nor were we able to fully progress some joint work with Scottish Government, such as implementation of criminal fee reforms and the development of a new grant funding programme.
This year we have focussed on improving the proportion of decisions we can take on the applications and accounts we receive without asking for further information. This measure focuses us on assisting solicitors in the application and accounts process. In many of the aid types we have been able to improve the proportion of decisions on applications and accounts taken first time, by producing guidance, working directly with solicitors’ firms and continuing to ensure we only ask for information when it is required. A detailed assessment of performance can be viewed here.
Our ambition is to achieve cultural and operational excellence; for our staff to be empowered to innovate and do what is necessary and possible within the legislative framework to improve our service and outcomes for our customers.
Key to innovation has been a review of our risk management framework, which has included our Board setting its risk appetite. We also assessed the level of assurance that we were able to give the Board on our management of our corporate risks. Managers in operational teams were involved this year in fully embedding our new approach to risk in their revised functional risk registers. This and other work assisted us as we managed and responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, managing and understanding risk to the functions we deliver and how we could flex controls appropriately to assist both people seeking legal assistance and those delivering the service.
This year we have also developed a risk based approach to our internal audit engagements and this complements the risk review work. We reviewed and changed our controls on expenditure in civil legal aid cases. We reviewed the effectiveness of the requirement on solicitors to report to us at defined stages of cases. The review showed that in most cases this stage reporting control was disproportionate to the risk of unmanaged expenditure that had led to its introduction, especially given the subsequent introduction of an additional control in the form of specific case cost limits. As most stage reporting added little in terms of risk mitigation, but added an administrative burden both for us and the profession, we decided to remove the need for stage reports in most circumstances.
Our programme of engagement with firms continued to assist solicitors better manage the applications and accounts processes and allow us to make decisions in more cases without having to seek further information.
Our main vehicle for achieving operational excellence is the GALA project. This is our most important project which has the potential to transform our decision making functions. It will help us create a framework to support effective decision-making which is communicated effectively to our customers.
This year we concluded the transfer of all of the current ‘legal aid handbook’ content to a new pamphlet structure for the new website. We also designed a work programme to review all of the decisions we take and develop policy statements to guide the application of discretion where we have it, external guidance to support solicitors and applicants and guidance for our staff. The work programme is extensive and will take us to 2022 to complete.
The People Strategy is another foundational programme of work to drive transformation. It has not progressed as far as we had hoped this year. A reprioritisation of work during the year focused the programme on workforce planning and a review of our people policies. Our approach to both of these workstreams will now need to be revisited to take into account the shape of the new working environment post COVID-19.
Our ambition is to improve and build on our understanding of the impact of our key processes and procedures on those that access the legal aid system and those that supply legally aided services in order to reduce barriers.
We have made some progress here but recognise there is more to do through our next corporate plan.
We visited or hosted 30 firms to provide bespoke training on aspects of legal aid, from training on using our online platform for applications and accounts, to technical training on applications and accounts processes for specific legal areas. Most of our visits are arranged at the invitation of the firm but a small number are arranged at our suggestion, and some are arranged following on from quality assurance processes suggesting that support would be helpful.
We worked with the Law Society of Scotland to develop a shared view on the benefits and challenges of a single or much simplified suite of aid types / grants [See ‘Simplification of Judicare’ p55], recognising that to achieve that level of simplification would require legislative change. This was reflected in our response to the Scottish Government’s consultation of legal aid reform following on from the independent legal aid review published in 2018.
300 solicitors engaged with our survey of civil legal aid solicitors on their experience of civil legal aid work and their insight into the market. The responses showed a strong commitment to legal aid amongst the profession, but a majority still consider the administration involved in making an application and processing accounts and payments to be a major challenge.
Key to understanding the impact of our processes on people is having a clearer understanding of them and their life circumstances. We have very low rates of completion of the equalities data which we ask for from solicitors as part of all applications processes (93% non-completion across all aid types in 2019).
49% of solicitors in the survey said they never ask applicants to complete the equalities information we ask for as part of the applications processes. Many did not give a reason, though some did not see the point of it.
We have reviewed our equalities questions for applicants and updated them in line with good practice guidelines developed by the EHRC and the NDPB Equality Forum. The placement of the questions will be changed to become part of the usual application process, with an answer mandated, but with a “prefer not to say” option. We plan to work with the Law Society of Scotland to promote the completion of these questions. This work and the timescales for necessary changes to the Legal Aid Online system has been impacted by COVID-19.
Equality research gave us good insight into what different groups may expect from SLAB services. This will inform our GALA work, but this could be better supported with improved equalities data collection as people apply for assistance.
Our ambition is to design our services to ensure that any bureaucratic burden on SLAB, solicitors and applicants is at the minimum level necessary to support accurate and timely decisions on access to legal aid funding.
This year we have met or improved on our effectiveness in making decisions across many of our aid types and decisions.
We have progressed work to digitise the main financial assessment form in civil legal aid which is completed by applicants not in receipt of a passported benefit. The applicant will have access to a secure cloud space where the form will be completed by the applicant then securely passed to SLAB.
We have drawn heavily on applicant research as we developed the digital process and form. We have encountered different technical issues accessing and using the form across a range of different devices and operating systems. The form is now ready for testing prior to roll out.
Our main SLAB website was fully redesigned and rebuilt. The website is mainly used by practitioners for information and guidance on the legal aid schemes. Some of the main changes were
We have built in a function to allow users to feedback on the utility on the website which has helped us refine some of the search function. Plans for a short survey of all legal aid solicitors were disrupted when lockdown interrupted survey work.
The new website has been one of our main platforms for communicating with solicitors about changes in the legal aid schemes during COVID-19.
Development of our performance management system
We have continued the development of our performance management system. This has been pivotal to our transformation work. We are continuing to refocus our operational performance in the processing of accounts and applications away from an overarching spotlight on a simple measure of the time an application or account is in our hands, which discounts any traffic back and forward between SLAB decision makers and applicants and solicitors. This approach measures and reports on time taken for the whole process as experienced by customers of our major decisions on eligibility and payment.
This has been the first year of reporting performance against static benchmarks, based on an average of the past two years’ figures and adjusted to reflect particular priorities or anticipated process changes. The performance reported for each month is measured on a rolling three month average, with no overall annual result: this was designed to encourage consistent management of performance throughout the year. As well as showing month to month movement, performance against the benchmark also provides a comparison against previous year’s performance.
Collaboration including wider Scottish Government priorities
Following devolution of financial services levy funding for debt advice to Scottish Government on 1st January 2019, SLAB has managed funding for the grant programme on behalf of SG Consumer Directorate and SG Justice Directorate. The grant funding programme currently includes 24 projects which are funded to March 2021. The projects broadly focus on providing help for people at court and in other settings for housing eviction, debt and simple procedure problems. We also continue to fund the Scottish Women’s Rights Centre Legal Project managed by Rape Crisis Scotland.
For much of the year we have worked with colleagues in Scottish Government Consumer Directorate to assist them with the design of a new debt focussed grant funding programme, funded by a portion of the devolved levy from the financial services industry. We have assisted in the development of a small programme designed to help debt advice agencies manage demand for advice. This programme will make funding available to test ideas to assist clients and existing debt advice staff achieve more effective resolution of debt problems within free advice services. This is expected to launch in 2020-21.
We continued to deliver a peer review and audit process to support the Scottish Government’s accreditation of advice agencies to the Scottish National Standards for Information and Advice Providers.
We work with the Law Society of Scotland to deliver quality assurance schemes for legal aid: solicitor peer review. We manage the Criminal and Children’s Quality Assurance Schemes.
We also measure the accuracy of the decisions we take and the accounts we assess. And we survey solicitor satisfaction through a series of micro-surveys. A fuller explanation of all these measures can be found online.
Our reporting on the indicators we use can be found in the SOPOR (SLAB Operational Performance Overview Report). The SOPOR for March 2020 presents the performance for the whole 12 months of 2019-20.
Civil applications performance has met or exceeded all the benchmarks set for the indicators throughout almost the whole year. As a consequence recalibrated benchmarks were being considered for 2020-21 however these have not been adopted at this time due to the uncertainty of current business conditions.
Criminal applications performance was noticeably better in summary than solemn. Application volumes in summary have been at a historical low whereas solemn levels remain high. Both areas were affected towards year end by the wider disruption to the criminal justice system.
Children’s applications performance consistently met the desired levels.
In accounts it has been a more challenging year for the civil and criminal assessment areas to meet their benchmarks. The children’s area saw a process change implemented in the summer of 2019 which helped them improve their performance considerably. Work is continuing to make the submission of accounts easier and more efficient through system enhancements and online guidance development. We are also placing greater focus on the work done overall in the context of the particular case, which in some areas has reduced the number of abatements being made, the potential number of negotiations and the time taken to make decisions from the point of receipt of a completed application or account.
There has been a reduced duration in the majority of areas, but for a small number of account types the duration will remain unchanged until further work is undertaken.
Solicitor satisfaction surveys are conducted on the basis of two surveys per sector, separated by three months within a sector, with each sector offset by one month. This design is to avoid survey fatigue across a 12 month period. The latest civil survey was due in March 2020 but this was delayed to avoid clashing with a more in-depth survey of civil solicitors that took place in January 2020.
Satisfaction in applications remains higher than accounts but with both areas showing a majority of solicitors being satisfied. Useful feedback is being obtained from the surveys but the overall low response rates remain a concern. Accuracy of decision making in both applications and accounts has remained at a very high level.
Operational performance overview reports for 2019-20 and the previous year are available on our website.
|2019 20 SLAB Annual Report and Accounts 2 MB | 26 November 2020||2 MB|
|SLAB Annual Report News Release 2020 121 KB | 26 November 2020||121 KB|
|SLAB Annual Report 2019 20 Appendix 1 Key Statistics 92 KB | 26 November 2020||92 KB|
|Solicitor Advocate earnings 2019 20 Top 20 70 KB | 26 November 2020||70 KB|
|Solicitor Advocate earnings 2019 20 Alphabetical Order 60 KB | 26 November 2020||60 KB|
|Firm earnings 2019 2020 Top 20 63 KB | 26 November 2020||63 KB|
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|2018 19 SLAB Annual Report and Accounts 1 MB | 27 September 2019||1 MB|
|Annual Report News Release 2019 85 KB | 27 September 2019||85 KB|
|SLAB Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics 348 KB | 27 September 2019||348 KB|
|SLAB Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics Charts 106 KB | 27 September 2019||106 KB|
|Annual Report 2018 19 Appendix 1 Key Statistics Diagrams 433 KB | 27 September 2019||433 KB|
|Advocate earnings table 2018 19 Top 20 223 KB | 27 September 2019||223 KB|
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|Solicitor Advocates Earnings Table 2018 2019 Top 20 230 KB | 27 September 2019||230 KB|
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|SLAB 2017 18 Annual Report and Accounts 1 MB | 14 December 2018||1 MB||14 December 2018|
|Annual Report 2017-2018 : News Release 78 KB | 14 December 2018||78 KB||14 December 2018|
|Annual Report 2017-2018 : Key Statistics 350 KB | 14 December 2018||350 KB||14 December 2018|
|Annual Report 2017-2018 : Summary of Legal Assistance 522 KB | 14 December 2018||522 KB||14 December 2018|
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