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04 December 2012

Justice System Failing Less Well Off

The new President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Mr Michael Robinson, has said that the Justice system does not provide equal justice for the less well off and middle classes in Northern Ireland.

The President made the remarks during his maiden speech to the solicitor profession at the Society’s Annual Dinner at the Culloden Hotel in Holywood.

Speaking at the Annual Dinner he said:

"Solicitors are the cement the holds society together.  Their role in a stable and well functioning society is often misunderstood, marginalised and regarded as obscure but it is generally pervasive and fundamental.

The work of solicitors is critical to the proper functioning of day to day life in that, through their work as businessmen and women in the cities and towns throughout Northern Ireland, they interact at all levels of society and advise and assist people, businesses, organisations and government to form and manage the stable and co-operative relationships which are necessary in a modern and independent society”. 

Commenting further he said:

“The real story about legal aid, which continues to be missed, is the substantial magnitude of government cutbacks and the ever decreasing level of public funding which continue significantly to impact on the rights of individuals to access the justice which is their fundamental right and that of everybody.

Our justice system promises equal justice under the Law for all. However it simply does not provide equal justice for the less well off and, increasingly, even for what are perceived as the "middle classes".

For them justice is more apparent than real. The vast bulk of civil legal needs for those individuals and families go unaddressed”.  

The President commented:

“It is interesting to observe that in 2011 the Law Society carried out a members’ survey which demonstrated clearly that in excess of £21m of free legal advice is provided annually by solicitors in Northern Ireland.

At the same time Government policy is such that it is increasingly asking,  private practitioners to provide free or "at cost to the solicitor" advice to ensure the proper functioning of the justice system.

One must question whether the expectation that solicitors will continue to help rescue our under-funded legal system for no payment is legitimate and proportionate”.