Handbooks Index

 

Part 4: Civil legal aid


Chapter 3

Assessing probable cause and reasonableness

3.1 General guidelines
3.2 Probable cause
3.3 Reasonableness
3.4 The nature of the proceedings appears not to be reasonable
3.5 The application is premature

3.5.1 Reparation

3.5.2 Judicial Review
3.6 Frivolous or vexatious
3.7 Public sensitivity
3.8 When the issues involved do not appear to be in dispute and the proposed action is unnecessary
3.9 The order sought is not necessary
3.10 A reasonable offer has been made in settlement
3.11 The order sought will not cause significant disadvantage or prejudice
3.12 The matter could be resolved in other existing proceedings
3.13 Undue delay in seeking a remedy
3.14 The applicant is not in a position to benefit from the remedy sought
3.15 Where the state of the evidence may mean it is not reasonable to make legal aid available
3.16 Applications by corporate or unincorporated bodies
3.17 Applications by persons with joint interest
3.18 Shadow applications
3.19 Other rights and facilities
3.20 Matters de minimis
3.21 Applicant convicted of a criminal offence arising from subject matter of application
3.22 Insufficient interest
3.23 Prospects of success
3.24 Prospect of recovery do not justify the use of public funds
3.25 Cost benefit analysis
3.26 Claim likely to be within the small claim limit
3.27 Private client reality
3.28 Practical benefit to the applicant
3.29 Legal aid for appellate proceedings
3.30 Where more than one party is legally aided
3.31 Proceedings in a court outwith Scotland are more appropriate

3.31.1 Applicant care status

 

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Unless otherwise stated, "the Act" or "the 1986 Act" means the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986, and “the regulations” means the Civil Legal Aid (Scotland) Regulations 2002.

NOTE
This chapter was extensively revised in March 2010, and individual changes are not marked.


3.1 General guidelines

The guidelines in this chapter and in Part IV chapter 4 outline the sort of information we expect to see accompanying applications for civil legal aid.  They follow on from, and are additional to, the explanation in chapter 2 about what we need to see in an application. They cover a range of topics and types of application.  They give a basic background to the factors we will look at in considering probable cause and reasonableness, and the evidential requirements for applications.  While we will consider each case on its individual circumstances, you should follow these guidelines, as appropriate.  In general, we would encourage you to send us applications that are fully complete to avoid continuations, or refusals followed by review.

It is our statutory responsibility to assess whether the applicant has probable cause and whether it is reasonable to make legal aid available.  We consider each case on its own merits taking into account all the relevant factors.  We will not prejudge issues that are matters for the court to decide.

All applications must meet the tests for probable cause and reasonableness set out in these guidelines.



3.2 Probable cause

To establish probable cause

Details of the evidential requirements for the different types of case are set out in part IV chapter 4.



3.3  Reasonableness

Section 14(1)(b) of the Act requires us to be satisfied that it is reasonable in the particular circumstances of the case that the applicant should receive civil legal aid.  The reasonableness test provides us with a very wide discretion.  It is impossible to give an exhaustive list of circumstances in which questions of reasonableness may apply.  We have identified certain situations where it may not be reasonable to grant legal aid and in addition, we have provided information on certain factors that may be taken into account in deciding whether or not it is reasonable to grant legal aid.  There are, however, many factors that we need to take into account in assessing whether an application is reasonable so we cannot provide a definitive list of those factors.



3.4  The nature of the proceedings appears not to be reasonable

Something about the case itself may be objectively unreasonable, even if none of the circumstances shown in the remainder of this chapter apply.  We will decide this based on the information you give us in the application.


3.5  The application is premature

It may be not be reasonable to grant legal aid where no or insufficient attempt has been made to resolve the dispute without litigation.  We must see evidence that negotiations have been attempted and failed and that the position the applicant is adopting in the negotiations is a reasonable one.  You must give us detailed evidence about the negotiations undertaken for all applications for civil legal aid, whether family or non-family applications.  If you do not give us this evidence or the evidence is not sufficient to show that realistic attempts have been made to settle the case without recourse to litigation, we may refuse the application. 

If the applicant is the defender in the court action, we need less evidence about whether sufficient attempts have been made to settle the case without litigation although we do need to be given full details of attempts made to resolve matters without further court proceedings being necessary, including information about any responses received from the opponent and their solicitor, given that the defender has less opportunity to negotiate a settlement once the action has been raised. 

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3.5.1 Reparation

In reparation actions for under £10,000, we would expect to see some attempt to comply with the timetable contained in the voluntary pre-action protocols agreed between the Law Society and the Forum of Scottish Claims Managers, for personal injury claims, industrial disease claims and professional negligence claims.  Even where the claim has not proceeded in terms of the Law Society’s voluntary pre-action protocols, we will have regard to the time limits in them when considering whether the application is premature.

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3.5.2  Judicial Review

In relation to petitions for judicial review, we still expect an applicant to demonstrate that they have made an attempt to resolve the issue without litigation.  Where no such attempt has been made, an explanation for this must be provided.  An inadequate or unsatisfactory explanation may have a significant bearing on the issue of whether it is reasonable to make legal aid available.   However, you should submit any application as soon as possible within the three-month time period available for raising a petition, so as to permit the application to be determined before the expiry of the three month period.   



3.6  Frivolous or vexatious

Applications for civil legal aid for frivolous or vexatious proceedings will not be funded at public expense.  There is no reason to make public funding available to prosecute such actions where it would not be reasonable to advise privately paying clients to do so.  We will consider what applicants of moderate means would be prepared to undertake were they paying for the case themselves in deciding whether to grant civil legal aid.  An example of this may be where someone wants the court to look into a very minor matter that has little or no direct impact on the applicant.



3.7  Public sensitivity

Occasionally, some element of the background to the case or the applicant may make an application sensitive to public opinion (for example, where the applicant has been convicted of a serious crime). This does not render a case vexatious or frivolous. There may be important issues to be dealt with in the case.  Applications that are publically sensitive will be referred to the Board's Legal Services cases Committee for guidance in deciding whether it is reasonable to grant civil legal aid.

NOTE
This paragraph amended in November 2010.



3.8  When the issues involved do not appear to be in dispute and the proposed action is unnecessary

It is not reasonable to use public funds to litigate a matter where there is no active dispute between the parties.  An example may be where it is intended to raise proceedings seeking a residence order and yet the residence of a child is not actually being challenged or likely to be challenged by any other party.  We will refuse such applications for civil legal aid. 



3.9  The order sought is not necessary

An order might be unnecessary if, for example, the existing situation between the parties is unlikely to change and a court order is not needed to prevent it changing.  This again may apply where there are issues relating to the residence of a child or where contact is being exercised without any interference. 



3.10  A reasonable offer has been made in settlement

In assessing reasonableness we need to consider the reasonableness of any offer or tender that has been made.  You must tell us about any offers made.  We also need to be given full information about why you or your client do not consider the offer or tender reasonable with reference to awards made in similar cases.  In reaching our decision on whether the offer appears reasonable we may take into account factors such as:

3.11 The order sought will not cause significant disadvantage or prejudice

This is most likely to arise in defender applications, particularly for interdict.  Where the terms of the orders sought do not prevent any lawful act, for example if the interdict seeks to prevent physical harm to another person, then a defence to such an order at public expense is not warranted.  It could also arise where the applicant is a pursuer wishing to oppose a counterclaim.  If an order will not disadvantage the applicant, it would be not normally be reasonable to use public funds to resist the order.

 


3.12  The matter could be resolved in other existing proceedings

It would not be reasonable to grant legal aid for separate proceedings when a claim or dispute could be resolved within an existing action, either as it stands or by an additional crave/conclusion/defence/claim in the defence being amended into the existing pleadings.  It may be more appropriate for an applicant to seek an extension to an existing grant of civil legal aid.



3.13  Undue delay in seeking a remedy

Where an applicant has failed to avail themselves of a remedy at the appropriate time, it may be not reasonable to make legal aid available at, perhaps, some considerably later date.  This could arise, for example, where:



3.14  The applicant is not in a position to benefit from the remedy sought

If the applicant cannot use the remedy sought, proceedings at public expense seem somewhat pointless.  For example, a spouse may demand an order transferring title in the matrimonial home, but not be in a position to meet mortgage payments, or the lender may refuse consent to the transfer from joint names on the mortgage.  While the remedy sought might be valid, the applicant could not use it.


3.15  Where the state of the evidence may mean it is not reasonable to make legal aid available

While someone may be able to rely in court on uncorroborated evidence and hearsay evidence, the courts would normally expect a solicitor to lead corroborative evidence and non-hearsay evidence if it is available.

We expect supporting evidence, if available, to be produced with the application, unless getting it would cause unreasonable difficulty or delay (for example, if witnesses are not responding to requests to give statements, or are living abroad or in inaccessible localities).  If it is not produced, you must provide an explanation at section L on form CIV/SOL/FAMILY or CIV/SOL/NON-FAMILY.  We may refuse as unreasonable applications that do not include this information. 

If, however, an applicant cannot prove this without leading technical evidence to satisfy the court, that applicant may have to produce a report with the application to establish probable cause, and we may refuse the application if it is not produced.  Similarly, a copy of any document that is material to an application, such as a contract or a title deed, must also be produced.

Where an applicant is asking the court to rely on hearsay evidence, we will have to be satisfied the court would be likely to accept it as evidence.  (To take a perhaps extreme example, a witness stating the pursuer had told her last week that he had been separated from his spouse for two years would not establish two years’ non-cohabitation.)

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3.16  Applications by corporate or unincorporated bodies

Under the Act, civil legal aid can only be granted to “a person”. This term is defined in section 41 of the Act as excluding a body corporate or unincorporated, except where the body is acting in a representative, fiduciary or official capacity.

 
Legal aid is not available to partnerships or to the individual partners of a firm to pursue or defend actions brought by or against the partnership and where the effect of giving legal aid to a partner would be to give legal aid to the partnership itself.   Legal aid may be available to an individual, who may be a partner, but who has a separate or free-standing cause of action or basis of alleged liability (but not simply, or in respect of, liability as a partner for the partnership liabilities).   In these circumstances, the application for legal aid should provide full details and any relevant explanation as appropriate as to how the individual’s interest is, in the circumstances of the case, separate and distinct from that of the partnership.
 
Sole traders are not corporate or unincorporated bodies, and may therefore apply for civil legal aid. There is no prohibition on sole traders seeking legal aid to pursue or defend proceedings about business matters (for example, sums not paid under a contract).



3.17  Applications by persons with joint interest

In terms of regulation 15, we can only grant legal aid to someone who is jointly concerned with, or has the same interest in the matter as, other people if we are satisfied that:

Where there are a number of individuals who all appear to share a broadly similar objective in an action public funding will not generally be made available to fund the case unless strong evidence is provided to show that an individual will suffer serious prejudice.
An example of “serious prejudice” would be an owner of a flat in a tenement faced with litigation over a bill for common repairs.

Examples of cases where an applicant will not suffer serious prejudice include closure of a school, community centre, swimming pool, or other cultural or leisure institution.

Where several people each have a claim for damages, say, arising out of a common calamity and each individual has their own distinct claim, this would not be joint interest.  While the parties have similar interests, they are not the same.

Similarly, where a claim arises from a fatal accident, the claim for a child of the deceased is treated as separate and distinct from the claim of a spouse or other relative.



3.18 Shadow applications

We sometimes receive applications in the name of a child or impecunious relative in cases where other family members, who would not qualify for civil legal aid, have a direct and identical interest in the matter.  Indeed, the other family members may be the true clients in the case, providing the solicitor with instructions.  It may not be reasonable to grant civil legal aid to them, in effect, through the device of granting it to an impecunious relative, thus allowing them to avoid paying towards the litigation.



3.19 Other rights and facilities

Under regulation 16, we cannot grant legal aid to someone who has other rights and facilities that make it unnecessary for them to get legal aid, or a reasonable expectation of getting financial or other help from a body of which they are a member.  We may, however, grant legal aid if the applicant has failed to enforce or get those rights, facilities or help after taking, in our opinion, all reasonable steps to enforce or get them (short of taking proceedings by way of declarator).

Other rights or facilities may include rights to indemnity under an insurance policy (legal expenses insurance, home insurance, motor insurance) or membership of a professional association or trade union.



3.20 Matters de minimis

It would not be reasonable to grant legal aid where the amount or issue at stake does not justify the cost of proceedings.  This is obviously a variable factor that depends on the circumstances of the individual case, including the strength of the merits of the case.  You should consider, in assessing the value of a claim, any likely deduction for contributory negligence.

Examples of such matters will include very modest personal injuries claims which are excluded from the small claims provisions but which cannot be said to justify the use of public funds to pursue the claim.



3.21 Applicant convicted of a criminal offence arising from subject matter of application

If civil litigation arises because of a criminal offence of which an applicant has been convicted, it would not be reasonable to grant legal aid to oppose the merits of the action.  Where for example a claim for damages is made arising from an incident which led to the conviction of the applicant  a defence on the merits would not be likely to be reasonable even if the applicant wanted to deny certain aspects of the case.

However, it would not necessarily be unreasonable to oppose the claim on quantum, depending on the whole circumstances of the case.  You may also need to consider the prospects of success, where substantial questions may arise bearing on the reliability and credibility of evidence led at proof.



3.22 Insufficient interest

All applicants must show they have a right, title and interest to be a party to the proceedings.  Even where such an interest is demonstrated, the amount of interest the applicant has may not justify the use of public funds.  As a general proposition, litigation that would have little or no material benefit to the applicant or is brought simply to satisfy vague demands for justice or principle would not be reasonable.  Such a situation could arise, for example, where an individual who is bankrupted wants to bring or defend proceedings that will bring him no practical benefit.

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3.23  Prospects of success

An important factor in deciding whether it is reasonable to grant civil legal aid is the issue of prospects of success.  You must address the prospects in all applications and give us enough detail about the case and its background to allow us to examine this issue carefully.  In addition you need to give us your view on the prospects and the reasons for reaching this view.  Experience shows that forms almost invariably suggest there are “excellent” or “good” prospects of success.  While we will take into account your comments on the prospects we will consider all the circumstances and decide whether it is reasonable to grant civil legal aid. 

In assessing the prospects of success we will consider the following factors:

You must send us information to satisfy us that, if the case is determined at proof or other final hearing, your client is likely to get an outcome that has some practical benefit for them.   

You must provide information on the prospects of success in the CIV/SOL/FAMILY or CIV/SOL/NON-FAMILY form.  The forms ask you whether prospects are “excellent”, “good”, “fair”, or “poor”.  We also need you to give your view on prospects on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being minimal or no prospects of success and 10 being an almost guarantee of success.  Comparing this numerical assessment against the existing four categories for prospects would mean that we will view cases ranked

You will need to support this assessment with reference to the information you have given us.   We will use this to help us consider the application.

In applications for civil legal aid in non-family cases where you assess the prospects of success as “fair” or “poor” (between 1 and 6), you must give us detailed information on any other significant factors that would warrant our granting civil legal aid despite this.  If you do not, we may refuse the application. 

You must also give us detailed information on the prospects of success in applications for civil legal aid in family cases.  If you assess the prospects of success as “fair” or “poor” (or between 1 and 6), you must  show there is some purpose in the applicant continuing with the proceedings despite this.

NOTE
This paragraph amended in November 2010.



3.24  Prospect of recovery do not justify the use of public funds

We will give careful consideration to the prospects of recovery in any case.  If your client is unlikely to recover the principal sum and expenses it would not be reasonable to waste public money obtaining an unenforceable decree.  Experience shows solicitors tend to suggest on the CIV/SOL/FAMILY or CIV/SOL/NON-FAMILY form that there are good prospects of recovery.  We will note your comments about the prospects of recovery but we will consider all of the circumstances and reach our own view on whether it is reasonable to grant civil legal aid.  We will consider whether the opponent:

You must provide information on the prospects of recovery in the CIV/SOL/FAMILY or CIV/SOL/NON-FAMILY form.  The forms ask you whether prospects are “excellent”, “good”, “fair”, or “poor”.  We also need you to give your view on prospects on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being minimal or no prospects of recovery and 10 being an almost guarantee of a full recovery of principal sum and expenses being made.  Comparing this numerical assessment against the existing four categories for prospects would mean that cases ranked

You will need to support this assessment with reference to the circumstances of the opponent and their ability to meet any awards that may be made.   We will use this to help us consider the application.

Where you assess the prospect of recovery as being either “fair” or “poor” (between 1 and 6), you must give us detailed information about why you consider it reasonable to grant civil legal aid.  If you do not, we may refuse the application.  If a decree is not likely to help an applicant it would not be reasonable to spend public funds on a court action.

Information on the prospects of recovery should include the prospects of recovering expenses in addition to any damages or capital sum that may be awarded.  Expenses should be sought in all non-family cases where the legally aided party is successful. 

NOTE
This paragraph amended in November 2010.



3.25 Cost benefit analysis

We will always examine the solicitor’s assessment of the likely costs of any case and balance these against the benefit an applicant will get from proceedings.  You must give us details of the potential costs of cases including those where proceedings are likely to be defended.  This includes the cost of any fees, including fees for counsel together with any outlays likely to be incurred.  These costs should include the potential extent of any expenses that may have to be paid from the Legal Aid Fund if a successful section 19 motion for expenses is lodged.  This section of the Act makes provision for the circumstances in which an unassisted party may obtain a court order for payment of their expenses out of the Legal Aid Fund.  Such an order will normally only be sought where the court has modified an assisted person's liability in terms of section 18(2) but where an order is made, the Fund may have to bear considerable costs.  This is an important factor for us to consider.

The approach we take to the cost benefit test was upheld in the case of McTear –v- Scottish Legal Aid Board 1997 SLT 108.  In that case the court considered that while cost alone cannot justify a refusal on reasonableness, balancing the cost of litigation against the potential benefit to the client and prospects of success where heavy expenditure of public funds was likely to be needed did not prevent the Board from effectively viewing the cost of the litigation as the deciding factor.

The cost benefit analysis applies to any value of financial claim.  If the applicant fails to fully recover judicial expenses, property recovered or preserved by the applicant may be subject to clawback potentially leading to little or no material benefit to the applicant.  We need to be able to assess any such risk at the outset and so you must give us full details on the total potential costs.

If the court considers that someone has no basis for their claim and little likelihood of success and it orders caution for expenses as a condition for continuing with their case we cannot meet any such costs.  If such an order is made you must tell us immediately.

You should refer to paragraphs 3.23 and 3.24 on prospects of success and for recovery on the information we need to see to allow us to consider whether the cost benefit test is met.
We recognise that a large percentage of reparation cases are successful, and that in claims below £3,000 summary case expenses may well exceed the principal sum recovered.  This is not a bar to getting legal aid.  However, you will still have to satisfy us about the prospects of success in any individual case as well as the likelihood of recovering costs.



3.26  Claim likely to be within the small claim limit

We do not take statements in an application about the value of a claim at face value.  If you want to argue that a claim is in excess of the small claims limit we need to see documentation to support this view.  This allows us to assess whether, in our view, the claim lies above the small claims limit.  Civil legal aid is not available for small claims actions.  If the claim really lies below £3,000, it should be raised as a small claim. 

The Small Claims (Scotland) Amendment Order 2007 excludes actions for personal injury from the category of actions that must be brought as small claims, and we can, therefore, grant civil legal aid for these.  However, we have to consider carefully whether the value of any personal injury claim is enough to make it reasonable to grant civil legal aid.  This will include careful consideration of the cost benefit analysis test set out in paragraph 3.25.


3.27  Private client reality

Legal aid does not exist to place those receiving it in any better position than privately paying clients.  We look to see whether a privately paying client would be prepared to litigate in the same circumstances. 

In Venter v Scottish Legal Aid Board 1993 SLT 147 the Inner House agreed that we were perfectly entitled to take into account what a private client would do on being told that part of their case was likely to involve unusually large expenditure. 

Taking this into account, expensive litigation in the Court of Session on issues that, while having a legal basis, are in connection with issues that have only a modest impact on the applicant, may well  not be a reasonable use of public funds.  It is important to remember that  the availability of legal aid does not give entitlement to resources beyond that of the private fee-paying client of modest means.



3.28  Practical benefit to the applicant

In assessing whether it is reasonable to make civil legal aid available we need to consider the practical benefit an applicant will get from any proceedings.  You should address what significant personal interest an applicant has in a case and its outcome.  If no information is provided to show a significant practical benefit to an applicant from being involved in proceedings we may refuse the  application for civil legal aid. 



3.29  Legal aid for appellate proceedings

You should bear in mind that the onus is on the applicant to satisfy us that there is both probable cause for the appeal and that it reasonable to grant legal aid for the appeal.   Accordingly you must give us a lucid explanation of the basis upon which the court decision is susceptible to appeal.

Probable cause in relation to appellate proceedings
For all appeals, including appeals against final interlocutors and appeals against other interlocutors, we need:

Reasonableness in relation to appellate proceedings

Appellate proceedings are more expensive than those at first instance, particularly for proceedings before the Inner House of the Court of Session and the Supreme Court. In these situations we need detailed information about the potential cost of such proceedings. 

This should include the potential costs of the other party, since these may have to be borne by the Fund and may be significant.  It is important to remember that if the legally aided party is unsuccessful in appellate proceedings, the non-legally-aided party does not have to meet the financial hardship test for a section 19 claim for expenses from the Fund.  This section of the Act makes provision for the circumstances in which an unassisted party may obtain a court order for payment of their expenses out of the Legal Aid Fund. Such an order will normally only be sought where the court has modified an assisted person's liability in terms of section 18(2) but where an order is made the Fund may have to bear considerable costs.

You also need to give us your detailed views on the prospects for success as set out in paragraph 3.24.  The potential cost implications for the Fund arising from unsuccessful appellate proceedings are a factor that we need to take into account in assessing whether it is reasonable to make legal aid available.



3.30  Where more than one party is legally aided

Where more than one party in an action has legal aid we need to give careful consideration to the nature of the issues in dispute and whether it is appropriate for public funds to be made available for the proceedings.  Such cases have the potential to be expensive and need to be carefully monitored to ensure that litigation is the only way of resolving matters expeditiously.

In family actions it is not unusual to find more than one party seeking public funding.  Even if it is reasonable to grant civil legal aid we need to consider the nature of the issues in dispute and whether they can only be resolved through court proceedings.  You must give us detailed information on attempts made to resolve matters without resorting to court.  This should show that proposals to try to settle the case without litigation have been pragmatic and were designed to achieve settlement where possible. 

Where we receive an application for civil legal aid to defend a non-family case raised by a legally aided party, we will revisit any existing grant of civil legal aid to the pursuer in addition to considering the defender application.  We will use all relevant information including documentation we may have about the other party’s case to decide whether it is reasonable to make public funding available to more than one party in the action.

We will also examine the outcomes achieved in such cases to allow us to keep under constant review the benefits achieved from proceedings where more than one party has legal aid.



3.31  Proceedings in a court outwith Scotland are more appropriate

There may be cases where both the Scottish and foreign courts have jurisdiction.  Factors that might be relevant in assessing which country is more appropriate include, for example,

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3.31.1 Applicant Care Status

Where an application concerns a person who is a looked after child or a care leaver we may take this into account as a factor in assessing whether the reasonableness test for civil legal aid.

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