Legal aid rows at opposite ends of globe

Rows over legal aid systems around the world continued apace this week, with recent lawyer strikes in Scotland followed by disputes at opposite ends of the globe in Australia and Northern Ireland.

Belfast: Northern Ireland's legal aid fund is a 'bottomless pit' says top prosecutor

Practitioners in Melbourne staged a demonstration outside a city court building yesterday in protest over government plans to amend eligibility criteria for local legal aid. Ministers maintain the cuts are a crucial response to a multi-million dollar hole in the system’s finances.
According to the Herald Sun newspaper, the Law Institute of Victoria called for an immediate suspension of the plans, as, according to the lawyers, they could severely affect access to justice in relation to family, youth and criminal law issues. James Dowsley, co-chairman of the institute’s criminal law section, told the newspaper: ‘There is no doubt that the criminal justice system and Victoria legal aid are at crisis point ... Both must be funded properly to ensure that the system does not grind to a halt.’

Bottomless pit

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s head prosecutor has lambasted local legal aid lawyers for having access to a ‘bottomless pit’ of funding that far outstrips the cash available to his own department.
Barra McGory QC, the director of public prosecutions in the UK province, called on the government to consider launching a state-funded public defenders’ office to rein in defence costs. He told local newspaper, the News Letter, there needed to be a ‘root and branch examination of the criminal justice system to have a look at just why the defence costs appear to be a bottomless pit’.
The report points out that Mr McGory is a ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, having started his professional career as a criminal defence lawyer. ‘I know it from both sides,’ he told the newspaper. ‘And one of the things that struck me coming into the prosecution service is how under-resourced it is compared to the defence.’

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