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A state-funded lawyer scheme for domestic violence victims could be introduced as part of sweeping reforms proposed by a Scottish Office consultation paper issued last week.
The paper, Access to Justice Beyond the Year 2000, proposes setting up a scheme whereby low-income victims of violence seeking an interdict (the Scottish equivalent of an injunction) against an abusive partner can go to solicitors employed directly by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB).
The idea complements plans for a SLAB-run public defender scheme due to be piloted from 1 October for summary criminal cases in the district and sheriff courts in edinburgh.
The paper also proposes extending the categories of those who can provide legally aided advice to non-solicitor agencies such as Citizens Advice Bureaux, and creating new community law centres employing qualified solicitors and advice workers.
Increased use of mediation and alternative dispute resolution, and an information service to direct the public to the most appropriate source of legal advice, are also proposed.
Greater regulation is also on the cards for solicitors with the paper's proposal to add civil work to the registration system and a code of practice regulating solicitors offering criminal legal assistance introduced last year.
Scottish Office minister Henry McLeish said: "It is important to ensure there are adequate and effective means for citizens to resolve civil disputes." SLAB chair Jean Couper said: "Our vision is the flexible provision of civil legal services rather than just legal aid or advice and assistance."