This page includes information on arrangements for the employment of counsel under civil legal aid. It includes information on: the tests applied in our assessment of requests for counsel (whether case-related, or linked to your circumstances); timing of requests; limited use of counsel for opinions etc.; and retrospective grants for the employment of counsel.

Situations where our prior approval is (or is not) required for employment of counsel or solicitor-advocates

The use of one junior counsel in a Court of Session case and the use of one senior and one junior counsel in proceedings in the UK Supreme Court (unless you do not intend to instruct Scottish counsel) is automatically available and no approval is needed. The use of counsel in any other situation needs approval. See the table below for quick reference.

Type of forum No approval required Approval required
Sheriff court, the Scottish Land Court, the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, the Upper Tribunal for Scotland or the Employment Appeal Tribunal or in proceedings before the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, the Social Security Commissioners or the Upper Tribunal n/a Any use of counsel (solicitor advocates excluded from definition of counsel)
Court of Session 1 junior counsel, or 1 solicitor advocate Senior counsel;  more than one junior counsel; more than 1 solicitor advocate
UK Supreme Court 1 senior and 1 junior Scottish counsel Counsel from outside Scotland

If we grant approval for a proof, then counsel is able to consult, give advice, prepare etc. without the need for further approval to the conclusion of the proof.  This will include appearing at any expenses hearings and giving advice on the prospects for an appeal.  All work undertaken will be subject to the usual accounts assessments.

The test applied in granting approval for counsel and information to be supplied on application

It was decided in the Petition of Matthew McAllister [2010] CSOH 112 that section 21(4)(a) of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 Act which states, “Criminal legal aid shall consist of representation, on terms provided for by this Act

  • By a solicitor and, where appropriate, by counsel”.

in addition to providing a definition also sets a test, in very wide terms, which has to be satisfied in order that we give approval for counsel. In arriving at this conclusion the court made clear that:

  • we have a wide discretion to exercise in making our decision
  • the weight we place on various circumstances is for us to decide
  • there is no “magic” in using the word “appropriate”.

While this case concerned a criminal legal aid application the wording in relation to representation applies equally to civil legal aid. The definition of civil legal aid at section 13 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 can equally be seen to set a test, in very wide terms, for the employment of counsel.

You must ask for approval to employ counsel as soon as possible once the need for counsel has been identified.

The request should:

  • be accompanied by all the relevant papers including a copy of the pleadings to date
  • draw attention to any averments relevant to the request
  • highlight any relevant issues and to allow the issues to be given proper consideration.

You should also give:

  • full reasons why employment of counsel is appropriate
  • detailed explanation of the background and any complex or unusual issues.

We need to assess the extent to which there are complicated or difficult aspects of the case. You therefore need to give specific details about the issues which are causing you concern. It will not be enough to say simply that a case is complex or difficult without explaining why.

Case-related factors considered in applications for approval for counsel

We have to consider all the circumstances of the case including:

  • whether there is a difficulty, complexity or novelty involved in the case either in fact or in law
  • whether there is any speciality, difficulty or unusual circumstances involved in pleading or presenting the case or in examining or cross-examining specific witnesses
  • the seriousness, uniqueness, gravity, importance or value of the case or other reactions likely to be aroused by the nature of the case and the evidence involved
  • the number, age, character or expertise of the witnesses to be examined
  • the number, nature or significance of the productions involved in the case.

You must explain the specific circumstances of the case. The information needs to be adequate to allow us to take an overall view of the case.

Parity of representation may not, of itself, be enough to justify employing counsel.  In cases where we have approved counsel for another legally-aided party in the action, this could be a persuasive factor. We will consider carefully whether there is any basis for distinguishing between two legally-aided parties by granting counsel to one party only.

Where the case is likely to involve cross-examination or criticism of another solicitor, practising in the same locality or of some other locally-based court official, we will view this as a supportive factor.

Factors in assessing applications for counsel relating to your individual circumstances

Applications for approval may refer to your particular circumstances and persuasive factors could include:

  • if you cannot attend a diet personally because of exceptional personal or business circumstances
  • if you cannot attend the diet personally, where you have had a long-standing involvement in the case and the client feels comfortable only with you
  • if you cannot deal with a case because of sudden illness or the death of a key member of staff
  • if there is no experienced local bar (only applicable to smaller, rurally-based courts).

Requests for senior counsel: availability and list of factors considered

Many of the factors already given apply to employing senior counsel as well as junior counsel.  Where you ask for senior counsel, we will consider:

  • whether the court would normally expect to see representation by senior counsel in such as case
  • whether there are exceptional factors in the case which show a need for the experience of senior counsel
  • value of the claim
  • whether the law applicable to the case is particularly complex or there are issues to be raised which have not previously been raised before the court
  • whether a decision has previously been taken in a case with similar circumstances which does not support the case or there is difficult expert evidence to be led.

Where we grant approval for senior counsel acting alone and then you ask for junior as well we will consider whether:

  • the issues of law involved or the number of witnesses and productions look likely to need the use of a junior counsel in addition to senior
  • the other party in the action intends to use senior and junior counsel
  • if so, are they in a comparable situation where parity of representation is justified and necessary
  • the progress of the case will be slowed or halted by a refusal to allow junior to become involved.

Approval and limited use of counsel for opinions and consultations: factors considered

Where you ask for the limited use of counsel, either to provide an opinion or for consideration purposes, you should:

  • give full reasons why this is necessary
  • give a proper explanation of the background and, in particular, any complexity to show why it is appropriate for counsel to be instructed to do this work.

You should tell us:

  • the nature of the legal issue and explain why this a matter so complex or so unusual that it is appropriate to involve counsel
  • whether there is enough information to place before counsel to enable them to give a meaningful opinion
  • what the opinion is to be used for
  • whether it will potentially save expense in the long run
  • if it is premature to ask for counsel’s opinion
  • where sufficient information is available, is it adequate to establish the legal issue involved and whether this is complex, novel or something which otherwise needs the use of counsel.

Timing of approval applications: when will we consider a retrospective grant?

If you need approval, you should apply to us before employing counsel. However we can grant approval retrospectively but only if we are satisfied that we would have granted the application if submitted on time and there was special reason for failing to get our prior approval.

We do not regard oversight as a special reason. The ability to ask for retrospective approval does not apply where prior approval was asked for but refused.

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