New figures show inmates in Scottish prisons have paid out more than £1million in taxpayers’ money for civil legal aid fights since 2020.
Since 2020, a total of 2,601 awards have been made for disadvantages rather than grievances such as custody issues, debt, or employment.
And in the three financial years to the end of 2022-23, a total of £1.079m was paid out, according to figures obtained under the Scottish Legal Aid Board’s freedom of information framework.
Only 194 cash bids were rejected.
The grand total prompted the Scottish Tories to question last night whether all spending was necessary.
So-called Limbs-in-the-Loch killer William Beggs has famously cost taxpayers more than £1million in legal action since serving at least 20 years in prison in 2001 – which has been widely criticized as a waste of time.
It was revealed last year that he had been awarded more than £23,000 in legal aid to challenge a ruling preventing him from receiving the taxpayer-funded money.
Last night, the Scottish Tory Deputy Justices spokesman, Sharon Dowey, said: “While some people need legal aid for valid reasons, the Government needs to ensure that that money is used lawfully.”
“Expenditure to support offenders should be kept to a minimum where possible.
“The SNP needs to focus more on funding essential services instead of giving so much public money to convicted criminals.”
The civil compensation is separate from the £16.7million in penal aid paid to prisoners over the same period. The category of criminal legal aid includes cash for those in custody who are to be defended in court, for those appealing convictions, for those facing further charges, or for representation at parole hearings or disciplinary hearings in prison.
There are broader concerns about abuse of the civil legal aid system by domestic abusers who initiate custody cases against women.
The Scottish Legal Aid Board stated that the majority of legal aid paid to prisoners went to solicitors for criminal legal aid in inmates’ criminal cases.
A spokesman said: “If prisoners pass the statutory proficiency tests, they are entitled to legal counsel on non-criminal matters, including issues relating to family proceedings, debt and the impact of their incarceration (including pre-trial detention) on matters such as tenancies, rent arrears or employment.”
The Scottish Government stated that responsibility for the legal aid system rested with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, which had to apply tests set out in legislation, and that ministers were not involved in the decision-making process on whether to grant or refuse legal aid.