11 March 2022
Statement on the Budget Engagement
The Bar of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland have this week made a joint submission to the Department of Finance and Department of Justice on the draft Northern Ireland Executive Budget for 2022-2025 warning that,
“ it has the potential to cause generational harm to the Justice System to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable people across society.”
The draft budget was published in December 2021 and sets out the Executive’s proposed spending plan for a three year period. The Department of Justice is the only Executive Department to see a net budget decrease under the terms of the draft budget.
This contrasts with the approach taken to Departmental allocations in neighbouring judications. In England and Wales, there has been the largest funding increase in the Justice System in more than a decade, with £2.2bn being invested to drive recovery. The Scottish Government, meanwhile, has recognised the need to support legal aid practitioners with grant schemes to support young professionals into legal aid practice.
David Mulholland, Chief Executive of the Bar of Northern Ireland, set out the stark potential outcomes of the draft budget:
“These budget proposals have the potential to put many legal professionals out of business and force others to withdraw vitally needed services from communities. The impact would not fall evenly and there is the potential to very significantly disadvantage rural communities. The legal profession in Northern Ireland is urgently calling for a ringfenced legal aid budget of not less than £82m to secure access to justice".
David Lavery, Chief Executive of the Law Society of Northern Ireland added:
“Legal professionals are in the business of helping people - quite often the most vulnerable people facing the most challenging circumstances. Whether it is a parent seeking access to their child in a matrimonial dispute or someone defending a criminal charge, everyone deserves access to effective legal advice and representation.”
The Bar and the Law Society have come together to urge Ministers to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected and have access to justice.