Belfast: legal aid cuts soon to be revealed
The Belfast Telegraph reported this week that the Department of Justice has said Justice Minister David Ford will submit his proposals to the justice committee before the summer.
According to the report, the introduction of set fees in civil cases will lead to significant reductions in pay for barristers and legal firms. The department has not yet suggested how much it hopes the cuts will save. However, with reports suggesting legal aid expenditure per person is around £60 – compared to £38 in England and Wales and £20 in the Republic of Ireland – the reform will have to be substantial.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland was quick to highlight that cuts could hit family cases involving children the toughest, as they make up the highest volume of civil legal aid payments.
A previous cut to lawyers’ pay in criminal court cases by Mr Ford in 2011 saw members of the legal profession launch an unofficial strike and refuse to take on new cases.
The news comes hot on the heels of reports that the Criminal Justice Inspectorate suggested that some criminal court cases may be held up to secure higher legal fees.
A CJI report found that at Crown Court cases solicitors got an average £1,996 when a defendant entered an early guilty plea compared to £4,635 if the plea is changed to guilty later.
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