Skip to Main Content
24 September 2010

President of Law Society Warns Against Two Tier Justice System

The President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Norville Connolly, has said that there can be no equal justice where the access to justice you have depends on the amount of money you have.

In a key-note address at the Law Society’s Council Dinner, Mr Connolly commented:

“Legal aid provides an important safety net for those who cannot afford justice. Justice is not a commodity which any Government can ration. If it is not accessible to all, the result will undoubtedly be an unequal society.

There can be no equal justice where the type of trial you get depends on the amount of money you have.

We cannot have a two tier justice system one for the have’s and another for the have not’s. Nor can we have a system where there isn’t equality of arms for example where the Prosecution is better equipped than the Defence or where a potential private citizen Plaintiff without means is dwarfed by the wealth of the opponent whether that opponent be a government department private company or wealthy individual. 

The Society welcomes any proposals to improve Access to Justice and we will positively engage with the review with this outcome in mind.

But we warn…. that improvements to Access to justice will not be achieved if the primary driving force is the short term expediency of reduced costs to the legal aid budget. In fact such a narrow policy may lead to increased costs elsewhere in the system.

In a wide-ranging speech to an invited audience including, Minister of Justice, David Ford MLA and the Attorney General, Mr Connolly said:

“The Minister has announced a fundamental review of Access to Justice  and the way in which Government procures legal services on behalf of the public.

The Society shall, of course, engage with the review, but in so doing, we must make it absolutely clear that the citizen must be entitled to access to justice through a solicitor of his or her choice. To take away this choice, I believe, will risk undermining the trust our citizens have in the justice system.”.

Commenting further he said:

“The Society welcomes any proposals to improve Access to Justice and we will positively engage with the review with this outcome in mind.

But we warn…. that improvements to Access to justice will not be achieved if the primary driving force is the short term expediency of reduced costs to the legal aid budget. In fact such a narrow policy may lead to increased costs elsewhere in the system.

Reflecting on the work of the solicitor profession in Northern Ireland the President highlighted the value of the network of solicitors and access to local solicitor of choice.

Mr Connolly warned against disadvantaged and vulnerable people having to travel long distances to obtain legal advice or representation.

He said: 

“The Society believes that access to a local solicitor of choice has provided a strong, reliable, independent interface between the citizen and the state.

Disadvantaged people require uncluttered Access to Justice”.

Mr Connolly reminded those attending the dinner that:

This jurisdiction has been served well by the network of solicitors’ firms and Government would undermine this at its peril”.

ENDS