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Ford outlines proposals to reduce spending on civil legal aid

Justice Minister David Ford has published proposals aimed at reducing the cost of civil legal aid by up to 4m per year.
Thursday, 29 November 2012

The proposals are set out in the consultation document ‘Reform of publicly funded legal representation in the Civil and Family Courts’, which marks the first step in a series of planned reforms to civil legal aid.

Minister of Justice David Ford MLA,Northern Ireland Department of Justice

The proposals are set out in the consultation document ‘Reform of publicly funded legal representation in the Civil and Family Courts’, which marks the first step in a series of planned reforms to civil legal aid.

The proposals seek to regulate the circumstances in which junior counsel in Family Proceedings Courts and senior counsel in the higher courts are assigned, to ensure appropriate, but cost-effective, levels of representation at all levels.  

David Ford said: “On the devolution of justice I inherited a very difficult financial situation on legal aid. I therefore set about a programme of fundamentally reforming the legal aid system in Northern Ireland so that in future, publicly funded legal services can be delivered within budget.

"As part of my reform agenda I have already taken action on criminal legal aid which has resulted in a reduction in annual expenditure of approximately £12m since devolution. It is now right that I consider changes to civil legal aid.

“The first step in reforming civil legal aid is the level of representation in civil and family courts. The proposals I’ve published for consultation today could potentially save £2.8 - £4.2m annually.”

Whilst the proposals will help reduce spending on civil legal aid the Minister underlined the importance of access to justice for those who require representation and assistance with legal issues.

He said: “I want to make clear, the options contained within this consultation paper continue to allow for proper and proportionate representation.

“And whilst the changes will drive down legal aid costs,I am committed to protecting the principle that people should have access to justice and assistance with their legal problems.

“The current level of expenditure on civil legal aid is no longer sustainable or justifiable.  This consultation commences a series of reforms to publicly funded civil legal aid which I will deliver over the coming years to ensure that those who can pay for their own representation do, and those that cannot afford to are proportionately represented at an appropriate cost.”

The consultation period closes on 8 March 2013.

Notes to Editors

1. The consultation paper launched on 29 November 2012. The consultation will run for a period of 14 weeks and responses are sought by 8 March 2013.

2. This consultation paper set out two options aimed at regulating the circumstances for which authority for counsel may be granted to ensure appropriate but cost-effective levels of representation for all legally assisted persons. If fully implemented these proposals could produce savings in excess of £4 million per annum.

Download the consultation paper

3. People who want to respond to the consultation paper, or ask further questions should contact:

Consultation Co-ordinator
Public Legal Services Division
Department of Justice
Massey House
Stormont Estate
Belfast
BT4 3SX
Email: plsdresponses@dojni.x.gsi.gov.uk

Fax: 028 9016 9502

Tel: 028 9016 9533

Text phone: 028 9052 7668

4. This is the first in a series of planned consultations aimed at reforming civil legal aid in Northern Ireland.

5.  All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440.