25 June 2013
Legal Aid Payments Reflect Solicitors’ Commitment to Access to Justice
The President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Mr Michael Robinson has said that:
“The Law Society of Northern Ireland continues to support transparency and accountability in the publication of information relating to expenditure from public funds”.
The President was responding to the publication by the Legal Services Commission of payments to solicitors’ firms and barristers for publicly funded legal services for 2011-12.
Commenting further the President of the Law Society, Michael Robinson said:
“The Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission has today published payments to 100 firms yet there are almost 400 other solicitors’ firms who provide publicly funded legal services to clients. These services are provided to support the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community who need the professional advice and support of a solicitor. What continues to be missing from the published lists and subsequent media reporting is the total number of people assisted through legal aid who face hardship and who are enduring the most difficult of situations.
It is these real cases including the children taken into care, those seeking restitution and those affected by the trauma of domestic violence, which the legal aid system serves and which should be the focus of the legal aid debate”.
Notes to Editor
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. (The Taxing Master of the 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 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.
· Any consideration of the figures published today must acknowledge that they include all solicitors’ overheads, including payments to staff, other business overheads including rent and rates and witness expenses and therefore do not reflect what the solicitor actually receives.
· It is important also to note that the levels of fees are not set by solicitors but are set by Government or the Taxing Master of the High Court.
Commitment of Solicitors
· Solicitors represent clients without fear or favour and act in their client’s best interests under due process of law. This is a fundamental principle of democracy.
· 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.