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Access to Justice Act 1999

Legal aid in Scotland

142.Section 32: Regulations about financial limits in certain proceedings. This section empowers Scottish ministers to make regulations to disapply the financial eligibility and contributions tests for assistance by way of representation in respect of certain proceedings.

143.Assistance by way of representation is a category of advice and assistance under the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986. Advice and assistance, and assistance by way of representation are defined in section 6(1) of the 1986 Act. Advice or assistance is provided by a solicitor or counsel in relation to a matter of Scots law. Assistance by way of representation is provided by a solicitor or counsel in connection with any proceedings before a court, tribunal or statutory inquiry. At present, advice and assistance is available under Part II of the 1986 Act provided financial and contributions criteria are met. Section 8 of the Act sets out the income and capital limits that determine eligibility for advice and assistance. Section 11(2) provides for contributions to be paid by a person in receipt of advice and assistance based on a sliding scale set in regulations.

144.Under section 9 of the 1986 Act, the Scottish ministers may by regulations provide that Part II of the Act as it applies to advice and assistance also applies to assistance by way of representation. Therefore, the financial limits and contributions which apply to advice and assistance are also applicable to assistance by way of representation. Ministers also have the power under section 9 to prescribe different provision for different cases and modify the financial limits which may apply to assistance by way of representation. However, it is not currently possible under section 9 to disapply the financial eligibility and contributions tests completely. Section 32 of this Act amends section 9 of the 1986 Act to permit this. The immediate intention is to use the power to disapply the tests for proceedings before Mental Health Review Tribunals.

145.Section 33: Recipients of disabled person’s tax credits. This section disapplies the financial eligibility and contributions tests from persons seeking or receiving advice and assistance who are in receipt of disabled person’s tax credit.

The Tax Credits Act 1999 provides disabled person’s tax credit to replace disability working allowance (under section 129 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992).

146.At present, sections 8 and 11 of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 provide for advice and assistance to be available without a means test or contributions to people in receipt of income support, income-based job seekers’ allowance or family credit. Section 33 adds to disabled person’s tax credit to that list. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 14 provides for this change to apply to disability working allowance, should section 33 come into force before section 1 of the Tax Credits Act.

147.Section 34: References by Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. This section corrects an oversight regarding the availability of legal aid for references from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission to the High Court in Scotland. Under the previous arrangements, the only test that applied to legal aid for references from the Secretary of State for Scotland was that relating to financial eligibility. The Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 did not amend the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 to continue this arrangement for references from the Review Commission. Consequently, when the Commission was set up on 1 April 1999, legal aid was not explicitly made available on the same basis as before. Section 34 restores the previous position.

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