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17 April 2015

Legal Aid Payments Reflect Solicitors’ Commitment To Access To Justice

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has said that it welcomes the publication of all information regarding expenditure from public funds.

The Society was responding to publication by the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland(LSANI) of payments to solicitors’ firms for publicly funded legal services for 2013/14.

 A spokesperson for the Law Society of Northern Ireland said:

“The Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland (LSANI) has today published payments to 100 firms yet there are almost 500 firms committed to providing legal aid services and support to the community. 

Regrettably what is missing from the published lists is information relating to the volume of legal aid work which took place over 2013 – 2014 and the total number of people who were assisted.

What is clearly evident from the published lists is the level of commitment of solicitors’ firms across Northern Ireland who continue to provide legal aid services to those most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the public - the victims of domestic violence, children who may be taken into care, those facing criminal charges and those with mental health difficulties. 

The value of legal aid cannot be determined simply in monetary terms as demonstrated by the 500 solicitor firms who remain committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community have access to justice from an independent legal service across Northern Ireland. 

Headline figures are a distraction from the real issues at stake in relation to securing adequate funding of legal aid services for those most in need.Delivering access to justice is a fundamental obligation for government in a civilised society and an efficient justice system is one which protects the most vulnerable in the most effective manner".

Concluding the spokesperson for the Society said:

“Any consideration of the payments published by Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland (LSANI) for 2013/14 must acknowledge that:

  • Payments to solicitors’ firms represent payments for work undertaken in cases which may take several years to resolve and include highly complex cases.
  • Payments are assessed and authorised following a careful process of scrutiny by the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland (formerly the LSCNI) and in some instances by Judges appointed to determine the amount of costs.
  • In addition to their own business overheads solicitors’ firms often bear the cost of outlays in bringing legal aid cases until their conclusion and subsequent payment.
  • Solicitors’ firms can range from the sole practitioner to a large firm with an extensive number of practising solicitors and support staff including office managers, clerks, secretarial and IT support and administrators.
  • The published figures make no distinction or reference to the size of the practice and the business overheads.
  • As small businesses solicitors’ firms are required to make payments for business outgoings including wages, national insurance contributions, pension contributions as well as overheads such as rent, rates, heat, electricity, IT and telecommunications.
  • The figures include payments which solicitors must pay for court fees, for reports and attendances at court by witnesses and experts.