The Civil Legal Assistance Office was set up in 2008, following several pilot projects.
The commencement of Part V of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act in 2001, paved the way for the provision of civil legal assistance by solicitors directly employed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (the Board). Before then, civil legal assistance was available generally only through solicitors in private practice and law centres.
After 2001, the Board worked with a number of partner organisations to run two phases of projects in which solicitors worked in the community. The ‘ Part V ‘ solicitors were based in and working within organisations that had identified a legal need.
Following a programme of review culminating in the then Scottish Executive’s consultation on Advice for All in 2005, Ministers announced that there would be further development of the Board’s capacity to provide civil legal assistance using directly employed solicitors. Ministers then announced development of a service, originally known as the Part V Service for the Highlands and Islands. The Ministers directed that the role that the service would play would be complementary to existing legal service provision. The remit of the service was therefore to work in partnership with solicitors in private practice. To that end, the service fwas set up to operate either as a referral agency, for those cases which could be referred to a local solicitor willing and able to take the case, or as direct case handlers where no referral is possible and the case is within the remit, practice areas and competence of the solicitors within the office, and as capacity permits. A smaller office in Lochgilphead, serving Argyll & Bute was also established on a similar basis.
In 2008, the Board employed three solicitors based in Edinburgh to operate outreach projects and they began work within four prisons across Scotland and within the community providing advice to prisoners and families of prisoners on civil legal issues. Again, the service worked in partnership with solicitors in private practice, referring prisoners with civil legal issues to local solicitors and arranging for them to visit prisoners to take on their case. This service expanded after the economic downturn with a further remit to address unmet legal need which has arisen as a direct result of the economic climate, and as well as an expanded Edinburgh office, the Aberdeen office also opened with the same focus on the economic downturn.
Each of the four CLAO offices has a different remit, standing that the aim of the service is to deal with identified issues in the particular locations.
The service became know as the Civil Legal Assistance Office in 2009.