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31 May 2011

Law Society Seeks Transparency in Legal Aid Discussions

Commenting on the publication of the list of legal aid payments for 2010 – 2011 the President of the Law Society, Mr Brian Speers said:

“The Law Society continues to support transparency and accountability in the publication of information relating to expenditure from public funds.

What is missing from the published lists today is information relating to the total number of transactions and people assisted through legal aid often in the most difficult of situations”.

-  ENDS -

Notes to Editor

Any consideration of the level of legal aid payments for 2010-2011(April 1 - March 31) must acknowledge:

Payment to Solicitors’ practices

·       Payment to solicitors’ practices represents payments for work undertaken in cases which may take several years to resolve and includes highly complex cases.

·       Payments are assessed and authorised following a careful process of scrutiny by the Legal Services Commission and in some instances by judicial officers. (Costs Master – High Court).

·       Payments to solicitors for services provided can be delayed for prolonged periods sometimes years. Part of the explanation for the rise in payments in recent years is that the recent payments reflect payment for work undertaken over previous years and do not relate to the year in which payment was made. 

·       Solicitors’ firms often bear the overhead and outlay costs of bringing legal aid cases until their conclusion and subsequent payment in addition to their own business overheads. This is an ongoing difficulty.

Commitment of Solicitors

·       Solicitors’ practices can range from the sole practitioner to the large firm with many practising solicitors and an extensive support staff including clerks, secretarial support and administrators. The figures make no distinction or reference to the size of the practice and the business overheads.

·       The figures include payments due for fees which solicitors must pay to experts including forensic witnesses and family care professionals.

·       The figures do not reveal the many thousands of individuals within the Community who without the benefit of legal aid would otherwise be deprived of access to justice under the law. 

About the Law Society of Northern Ireland

·        The Law Society of Northern Ireland was established by Royal Charter in 1922.

·        It has an elected Council of 30 solicitors and a staff headed by its Chief Executive, Alan Hunter.

·        As well as having a Royal Charter, Parliament has given the Society powers as set in the Solicitors (Northern Ireland) Order 1976.

·        The Society is a professional body, which is charged with matters of discipline, education and regulation of practising solicitors in Northern Ireland. The Society regulates the profession in the public interest.

·        Regulation of solicitors includes the annual issue of a Practising Certificate to each solicitor. This certificate entitles the solicitor to hold himself or herself out as a solicitor entitled to practice in Northern Ireland.

·        The Society has a dedicated department which handles complaints by clients against solicitors.

·        The Society runs Continuing Professional Development seminars for its members on an ongoing basis.

·        The Society has a very well stocked Law Library available to its members with highly qualified library staff. This stocks major legal textbooks, law reports and periodicals and is fully equipped with a modern computerised information system.

·        The Society contributes to draft legislation and frequently comments on proposed changes to the law including the impact of the changes on solicitors, their clients and the community.



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