Island couple unable to secure lawyer for case
A TEXTILE artist on Lismore may have to represent her family in court after being unable to secure a lawyer, despite qualifying for legal aid.
Sarah Campbell and her family have been involved in an ongoing dispute with their neighbour for the past seven years regarding access to a path that leads to their croft.
The family of four are currently reliant on Sarah’s income of around £ 8,000 per year as her husband, Yorick Paine, is busy building their home.
Ms Campbell said: ‘ We got in touch with every lawyer in Oban and had meetings with two of them and spoke on the phone at length with another three. Even though all of them said we see where you’re coming from and it does sound like you have a strong case, not one of them was prepared to take it on.
‘I think that the remuneration from the government was not going to be enough to justify them taking it on; it didn’t make any sense financially.
‘When we asked a lawyer how much they thought it could cost, we were given a sum of £ 50,000.
‘ We went to the Civil Legal Assistance Office, whose job it is to find lawyers to represent people on a legal aid basis, and it contacted every lawyer in Oban and then they put out a search nationwide for a lawyer who would be prepared to represent us. Nothing. No lawyer. Then I thought, this is a much bigger issue. Is this happening to other people in the country?
‘People who don’t have the means to be able to get justice, financial means, are being completely left in the lurch.’
A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: ‘In 2014-15 more than 80,000 grants of civil legal aid and advice and assistance were made to help people across Scotland fight for and defend their interests.
‘However, the decision to take on a legal aid case rests entirely with an individual firm of solicitors and is usually based on their assessment of the case and available business resources.
‘There are currently six firms registered to carry out civil legal aid work in Oban and a further two in the Argyll area. Our Civil Legal Assistance Office (CLAO) in Argyll and Bute also works to help meet unmet legal needs in the area. It does this by offering a referral service and a casework service.
‘ When a client presents with a case involving a highly specialised area of law, such as crofting law, which falls outwith the practicing experience of CLAO’s solicitors, the referral service to firms in private practice is used to help the client. This can help put someone in contact with a firm who will represent the client using legal aid.
‘If no private firm is willing to represent the client, then other sources of possible advice and guidance are given by CLAO.’
Sarah Campbell and Yorick Paine stand at the gate to their croft.