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15 June 2010

Legal Aid Payments Reflect Solicitors Commitment to Providing Access to Justice

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

The Society were responding to the publication by the Legal Services Commission of the list of legal aid payments for 2008//09 and 2009/10 to solicitors’ firms and barristers out of the legal aid fund.

Commenting on the publication the Society said that the lists clearly show the level of commitment of solicitors’ firms from across Northern Ireland who provide legal aid services to those most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the public. This includes the victims of domestic violence, children who may be taken into care and those facing criminal charges. 

The Society said that any consideration of the level of legal aid payments for 2008//09 and 2009/10 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 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. 

 

Commenting on the release of the lists, Mr Norville Connolly, President of the Law Society said:

The figures published include all solicitors’ overheads, including payments to staff, some barristers’ fees, witness expenses, business overheads including rent and rates and therefore do not reflect what the solicitor actually receives. 

The level of fees are not set by solicitors but are set by Government or the Costs Master in the High Court. The figures published include a substantial amount of arrears which should have been paid years ago but which are only been paid now.

The NILSC have published payments to 100 firms and there are over 400 other solicitors firms who provide legal services to clients. These firms’ earnings from legal aid have not been published but should have been.

The Law Society has been for some time in discussion with the Legal Services Commission in respect of the appropriate rates of payments within the legal aid budget.

These discussions have included a meeting with the new Justice Minister, David Ford on Wednesday 2nd June 2010. These intensive discussions are ongoing.

Solicitors 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. 

ENDS


For more information or interviews please contact:

 

Paul O’Connor

Communications Officer

Telephone:                         028 90231614

Email:                                  paul.oconnor@lawsoc-ni.org