Legal Aid Fees Dispute: “we cannot guarantee that they receive a fair trial”

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Over 140 defendants in criminal cases are now reported to be without legal representation in the ongoing legal aid fees dispute.  From the BBC report

Solicitors have refused to take on more than three quarters of criminal legal aid cases due to start in NI during the past six weeks.

More than 140 defendants have been left without legal representation because of the protest over lower legal fees.

“We don’t want to be on strike. We don’t want to be withdrawing our services… We are professional people who want to be representing our clients,” Mr McDermott [of the Solicitors Criminal Bar Association] said.

“The problem is we cannot represent our clients effectively, we cannot guarantee that they receive a fair trial, we cannot do the proper presentation on the figures that are put forward at present.”

Mr McDermott said the justice minister and the court service should take “a reality check”.

He claimed the proposed rates meant defendants would not be entitled to get a fair trial and solicitors’ firms would have to consider laying off staff.

Meanwhile the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, Alliance Party leader David Ford, appears to be attempting to carry on regardless.  From the UTV report

Mr Ford has instructed the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service to write directly to all law firms to confirm if they will work under the lower fees, which were introduced in March.

The Justice Committee was told on Thursday that although a high number of firms have come off record since the new rates were introduced, some are continuing to practice.

David Ford said: “This is a proportionate response to the current situation which I hope will allow the courts to provide defendants with a list of firms willing to provide legal representation.”

It is understood courts officials have written to over 500 firms across Northern Ireland, asking for their response within 14 days.

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  • Lionel Hutz

    Well, atleast David Ford will be in budget this year.

    He’s trying to break the solicitor strike by appealling to the more business-like competition between firms. The problem for Ford is that the strike is not just being taken by solicitors, its Barristers too. What Solicitor will take on a Crown Court brief without a Barrister.

    Remember though, the Bar and Law Society are not striking because there are cuts. They agreed to cuts that would bring the bill below budget. The DoJ then decided to do things differently anyway and made cuts involving over a 50% cut to certain kinds of cases.

    The DoJ need to ask themselves a fundamental question. Do they want to provide a system where those who cannot afford legal representation can have access to the best representation? If the answer is yes, then they have to pay for.

    Alternatively, they may ask whether they want to have legal aid for the range of actions that they currently do. That is one reason we spend more than elsewhere. We have legal aid in so many sectors, (i.e. Family and Civil Law).

    If they want a cut-price legal representation, then have a Office of Public Defenders style system. This is a public – policy decision at the end of the day.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “We are professional people who want to be representing our clients”

    Such people shouldn’t be asked to work for less than £5.93 an hour or whatever meagre pittance they’re expected to support their staff and families on.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    The outcome of this dispute will be depend on whether enough solicitors are willing to take on the cases in place of those who have withdrawn their services.

    Solicitors: They hope that soon, cases will start to get struck out on the basis of Defendants not receiving a fair trial or abuse of process. It will probably take another couple of months before you start to see that happening.
    The strength of their position is that they can continue this dispute for some time. Their potential weakness is that there might be solicitors out there willing to take on the work.

    Justice Dept.: Mr. Ford will start to feel the heat of political pressure if cases beging to get struck out. They are right to try and ferret out firms willing to take on the cases. The problem is that anybody tempted to do that will feel the strain of isolation within the profession later on. Taking on that work would not an easy decision for a solicitor, not even one who is very hungry for the work.

    This is a very small profession. The solicitors mostly know each other. It is likely that they will stick together for the time being.

    The political question is what price is worth paying for winning this dispute? My informed guess is that you will start to see cases struck out soon but people will not be bothered about that, initially, unless the charge is for one of the most serious offences such as rape or murder. Somewhere further down the line, we could see a released offender re-offending and rates of crime going up. If we got to that situation, it could start to become intolerable and Mr. Ford might then be facing a climbdown.

    The trouble for the solicitors is that awful scenario is unlikely to happen for a considerable time and the practitioners who heavily depend upon criminal legal aid might break before then.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Seymour, would those firms that do take on the work be able to expand sufficently in the medium term to cover most of the cases?

  • Lionel Hutz

    But the Bar is behind them Seymour. How can a solicitor take on a crown court case without counsel. Only a select few firms would be capable of it and those are the ones who are most firmly in support of the strike.

  • DC

    Just goes to show the difficulties that arise when trying to regulate the private sector – esp these solicitors and lawyer who are embedded into the system itself.

    David Ford and the government say work for less pay as the fees are too high, lawyers say bog off we are private sector, mind your own – and plus we all need these higher fees to do the job properly on behalf of our clients.

    The predictable outcome is as set out above in the post.

    The real real alternative to this is to bring legal services back into the public sector and services run on strict pay scales, the same way civil servants are paid. Not dissimilar to the NHS, because whilst treatment there might not be 100% at least people can get access to all necessary and urgent treatments.

    Even if we look at the start to end process of law enforcement – the police and community work together in conjunction at the start – the police are on statutory pay scales, on the whole the community gets paid nothing, then it goes to court where the judges are paid under statutory contracts, the whole process is largely statutory driven. Except for these lawyers and solicitors.

    I think given the nature of the legal system that legal services should be brought back into the public sector and funded under licence.

    The other option is Tesco Law which is about opening up to corporate powers and increasing competition with a view to bringing down prices.

    But perhaps, just maybe, statutory legal services could be the cheapest option for NI?

    We can’t go on like this

  • Lionel Hutz

    What do you mean by “back into the public sector”. When were they in the public sector. There is a big difference between Doctors and defence lawyers. Doctors want the same outcome as their employers do – to save lives etc. Defence lawyers are defending their clients against the state. How can they do so when they would part of the public sector.

  • DC

    @Lionel

    Sorry I assumed that there might have a Public Defenders system once a long time ago, but regardless the point is now is the time for a statutory run Public Defender Office.

    A public defender (from a statutory office) could be assigned to represent people who are charged with a crime and who desire legal representation but who cannot afford to hire a privately retained attorney.

    Defence lawyers are defending their clients against the state. How can they do so when they would part of the public sector.

    This is a false argument as the state already pays you guys in the legal services sector; in fact – to turn it on its head, how can the state not consider the public sector whenever you guys in the private sector no longer accept the government’s money nor represent clients any longer!

  • Longridgeofthecow

    In my opinion the vast bulk of the legal profession are self serving ingrates who run a monopoly based on smoke and mirrors with their only consideration to “justice” being their Bill of Costs submitted to the pay-master whoever that may be, regardless of outcome.

    They operate as a cartel, dictating costs as per a scale agreed by themselves!

  • Old Mortality

    “We are professional people…”
    No you’re not if you depend on the state for a living. You’re freelance civil servants.

    “The problem is we cannot to represent our clients effectively, we cannot guarantee that they receive a fair trial, we cannot do the proper presentation on the figures that are put forward at present.”

    I think he means ‘will not’ rather than ‘cannot’. It’s just an old-fashioned strike.

    The trouble is that these people may have accumulated so much fat that they can hold out for some time.

    DC
    The nationalisation option may not be the only solution. An alternative is to hand over the legal aid budget to the Law Society and the Bar Council and let them dole it out as they see fit.

  • Cynic2

    Government has to win this one. The amounts they are now paid are ludicrous. Why does legal aid here cost 20% to 30% more than in England when solicitors employed by practices are paid less? There have also been gross abuses of the system and a number of Our Learned Friends are now being entertained courtesy of Her Majesty for this.

    If the lawyers do stick together and the Bar Council and Law Society behave as Trades Unions and combine in this way there is a solution.

    First let’s deregulate the profession immediately and impose a separate external standards body to regulate them all. We don’t need two bodies – one will do. It’s long overdue anyway. Its all too cosy a little cartel at the moment and inhibits competition. Its also very much a boys club with women pushed out to Chick Law while the boys do the hard stuff – after all it is probably too much for the poor dears

    And at the same time we should immediately establish an independent public defenders service for indigent clients. This doesn’t need to be a public body. It can be a framework contract with say 4 firms that can be let quickly – say within 5 to 6 months. They will then do all the legal aid work excluding the rest. Its independence in cases can be enshrined legally

    Just draft a Bill to provide for those two issues and watch the squirming that will follow. Lawyers will be queuing up begging to do legal aid work within a week

  • Cynic2

    “The nationalisation option may not be the only solution. An alternative is to hand over the legal aid budget to the Law Society and the Bar Council and let them dole it out as they see fit.”

    That’s the way it was run before and it was a shambles

    Thats also probably a breach of European Competition Law

  • Cynic2

    “We are professional people…”

    …then behave like it

  • DC

    Some good points above.

    What I’ve come to learn about the private sector in public services is that there is a role but it should be kept at the edges on the periphery. The current legal aid system has it that it is entirely run by the private sector and we can see above just what happens. (Let that be a warning for those that think the private sector could or should run or take over public services entirely!)

    These lawyers view themselves as private sector, but someone said above they are nothing more than freelance civil servants – true enough.

    The key is to allow them proper financial freedom, perhaps for specialist corporate cases etc where they no longer rely on the state and can charge what they wish – the other bit is to ensure – like the NHS – that defendants get access to justice whatever their wealth. To me this is best achieved by opening a new Public Defender Office – run under licence and regulated.

    As an aside, I also think there should be an ‘innovation unit’ inside each public sector organisation reviewing systems and work processes and allocation – perhaps run by the private sector in partnership with the public sector. An office always reviewing – and with the power to overule the hierarchy in the public sector and bring changes in as and when required – with agreement of the sponsoring departments – DFP etc.

    In light of the Sharon Shoesmith decision in Britain I believe the argument is there for fixed term public sector contracts for senior decision makers so that contracts can be terminated at the end without any expense to the taxpayer.

    Sharon Shoesmith should have resigned on principle so as not to demoralise the concept of public services by making them seem entirely unaccountable and detached from the scene of the crime itself. She should have walked away – rather than hang about and be forced out. She was on high pay not just for performance – but also for responsibilty, and she failed to live up to the latter part. Responsibility. Vicarious responsibility. That’s what the big bucks are for too – whether it’s your fault or not.

    IF the legal eagles have their way – government should look at senior decision makers salaries and bring them down – it’s the same old story at times in the public sector: those that deploy minimum effort and hope to receive maximum reward.

  • DC

    Just to add, I do not foresee public sector legal representation falling victim to the problems mentioned above in my post re unaccountability and inefficiency which develop at times in the wider public sector.

    Because the nature of the work that they do – representing clients at court – will be open and involve a lot of interaction with different people in the courts, like defendants and prosecutors, judges and even the media will be there at times to keep an eye and report back. It will be an open battlefield which people will have to pitch their case and live off their wits.

    Even if efficiency and poor performace does happen with public sector legal representation this could be got round by fixed term contracts – say reviewed every 5 years? So if a particular ‘public defender’ was poor he or she could eventually be let go – rather than kept on under civil sevant-type ‘life long’ contracts!

    Might seem harsh, but it is right – it is justice we are trying to achieve here – not easy street!

  • Old Mortality

    Disrgracefully but predictably, the NIHRC has weighed in on behalf of the lawyers:
    “We are concerned that this situation, if it continues, will impair the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time. There is no human rights principle that defending solicitors should receive a particular rate nor are we challenging the regulation of rates of pay to legal firms. However, it is the duty of the Department of Justice to ensure that legal representation is made available in Northern Ireland, so that no one is detained or tried without access to professional advice and representation.
    The Commission is not satisfied that arrangements have been put in place to address this situation. With each day that passes the potential for this situation to lead to violations of human rights is increasing. We urge the Minister of Justice to continue to explore ways of ensuring that representation is made available, and to resolve the matter as soon as possible.”

    In other words, pay our dear friends, the legal aid lawyers, whatever they want.

  • Kevin Barry

    DC,

    I am genuinely quite interested to hear you explore or flesh out your proposals on a public defender of some kind here on Slugger. My only concern is that the talent will simply refuse to work for even less than what they’re getting now (and for the vast majority of solicitors requiring legal aid it’s not much) meaning that those who do take up employment with the proposed public defender may not be that good.

    Old Mortality,

    before you come out with some predictable clap against the NIHRC and lawyers all at once (bravo, double points for you) please read what you’ve quoted and please highlight where they have said that the DoJ is to pay legal aid lawyers whatever they want.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I don’t know if there is much point in responding to the points made above. Certainly the Bar Council and Law Society are not really going to engage in the PR aspect of this dispute. They do not have the resources of the DoJ or Sourt Service to win the argument.

    However, I’m gonna play devil’s advocate with some of the suggestions above:

    Office of Public Defenders
    I’m just wondering how much such a service would cost. Now there are currently around 2,500 solicitors in Northern Ireland and a further 600-650 Barristers. Its hard to estimate how many of these practices depend on criminal legal aid. But lets take a conservative estimate and say that if you added alll the legal ais up and allocated to solicitors and barristers to do it exclusively, there would be around 300-400. Most criminal work in the crown court is subject to legal aid (it tends to be the poorest who are prosecuted more). Taking out minor driving offences which are not subject to legal aid, the rest will mostly be legal aided. The PPS, to the best of my knowledge employ about 180 lawyers, and that does not include the Barristers that they instruct in the Crown Court and many Magistrate’s Courts around NI. Lets say we take a conservative estimate and say we would need around 250 lawyers in this OPD.

    How much would you pay them? Bearing in mind that these people have are all postgraduate qualified and highly skilled. I would say it would be fair to compare them to doctors. So when these lawyers are going through their traingin contracts/pupilage with the OPD in order to be qualified solicitors/barristers, it would be fair to pay them the basic rate for trainee doctors. Thats about £24,000. For newly qualified doctors, the rate is jsut shy of £30,000.

    http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/details/Default.aspx?Id=553

    Now as we all dont want a two tier criminal law system, it would be fair to pay those with more experience on the same basis as Doctors progress shy of becoming Consultants. The pay ranges from £37,000 to £70,000. Lets say the rate for QCs or the most senior solicitors or barristers in the service would earn a rate similar to consultants (a basic rate between £74,000 to £100,00).

    So lets say of these 250 lawyers, 50 trainees (avergae £24,000) , 170 in the middle (average £50,000) and 30 senior (average £90,000)- this is all very conservative. So on wages for lawyers we have £12,400,000 without overtime. That would be about £12,400,000 based on the lawyers working for a 40 hour week. I can tell you that this does not happen – most lawyers I know work between 60 – 80 hours a week.

    Now thats for the lawyers. I have made a reduction on the number of lawyers on the basis that much of the admin work we would be done by support staff as in the PPS. Currently the PPS employes over 3 staff for every lawyer. Say we take this OPD up to 700 for support staff and they earn an average of £20,000 (£14,000,000).

    We are up to £26,000,000 in wages alone at a basic rate. Now I understand that this is a crude way to factor this out, but its just a little excercise.

    That doesn’t include any outlay:

    -Rent and rates or capital investment
    -Utilities
    -computer equipment
    -Libray subscriptions
    -Court Fees
    -Professional Experts
    -CPD
    -auditing
    -the list goes on.

    Now David Ford wants the ENTIRE Legal Aid Budget to be £75,000,000. That includes all of the legal aid family law and civil law.

    Do you really think that this OPD idea is a runner?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Is £100,000 actually alot of money really when you consider what is being returned for it? It includes all of the professional experts auditted. All of the paper work done and costs associated with same. All the travel costs. All the professional development costs.

    People need to wake up.

  • Lionel Hutz

    should read £100,000,000

  • Cynic2

    “Disgracefully but predictably, the NIHRC has weighed in on behalf of the lawyers”

    Shame on you. The correct term is “Human Rights Lawyers (TM)”

    And what do you expect from Monica who’s agency has been profligate in its spend on legal actions that, almost without exception, it lost

  • Cynic2

    Lionel

    It would be faster better and cheaper to advertise all legal aid to a framework of lawyers at piecework rates (based on the current fees). Anyone on the list must guarantee to do the work. Anyone not wont get any. Restrict the list to say 10 to 20 firms. Them watch the fur fly as the solicitors and their linked barristers consider the implications.

  • Lionel Hutz

    how does that work. Someone gets arrested, goes the LSC and then they put his case out to tender?

  • Cynic2

    “My only concern is that the talent will simply refuse to work for even less than what they’re getting now”

    ….. then where else will they work? Legal aid is literally Legal Aid for lawyers not their clients and its a big part of the local market for solicitors and barristers services.

    But if they don’t want the business or to organise themselves efficiently so they can do it profitably why should the tax payer subsidise them?

    Why, for example, do the Senior Courts in NI only operate about 30 weeks a year?

  • Lionel Hutz

    do you forget how this works. Client picks solicitor. Do the clients not have a choice here? Get the crap solicitor who is willling to work for peanuts and cut corners to make a profit. You can consider the implication. I do little legal aid work, dont really care. But frankly, I went into the profession and wanted to criminal work. Everyone did on day one. Its sexier that way. But the reality, its not well paid. Its the worst paid sector.

  • Kevin Barry

    Lionel,

    Why are you even engaging with these guys? They haven’t thought through their proposals at all and just rehash stuff they read in papers for competition in other parts of the economy and think they can easily apply it to the law. I am actually lmao at some of the stuff above, deluded doesn’t begin to describe what I think of them.

    Cynic, where did the NIHRC in old morality’s quote above say they supported the lawyers in this instance? Good luck pointing it out

  • Lionel Hutz

    ….. then where else will they work? Legal aid is literally Legal Aid for lawyers not their clients and its a big part of the local market for solicitors and barristers services.

    But if they don’t want the business or to organise themselves efficiently so they can do it profitably why should the tax payer subsidise them?

    Why, for example, do the Senior Courts in NI only operate about 30 weeks a year?

    ——————————-

    They’ll work without legal aid. You also forget the flip side of the trade off. Barristers and Solicitors had been bound to accept the legal aid rate if the client is eligible for it. This strike is the consequence of a rule that says we cannot work for a rate if cannot meet the required standard for that amount of money. So we are no longer required to work if the client is eligible. People will find the money sure. If thats the way you want it, those that can afford it will.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Kevin,

    Because I do think that some of the readers on this site are open to informed debate. I don’t mind having a bit of fun with it. Its all good craic.

    Maybe we should have an Office of Public Defenders on £23,000 a year. Lol. We could use Sinn Fein-esque terminology. No longer lawyers, we will become legal-activists, on the industrial having incurred about £40,000 in debt to get there.

  • Kevin Barry

    Where else will they work? Oh dear, Cynic, do you actually think these lawyers or people planning on doing criminal work can’t decide either to stop doing it and move elsewhere or for the latter, decide not to practice criminal law at all, move to somewhere else like down south, england or elsewhere and do better paid work? Do you honestly think they’re stuck with their lot?

    Lionel, I couldn’t agree more, criminal law was the reason a lot of us decided to study the law but when we learn the reality of it all we decide it’s just not worth it.

  • Kevin Barry

    Lionel,

    That would be hilarious! Though I don’t think legal activist would be too good a title, it has to be something truly Marxist in it’s nature, I’ll have to think of one and come back to you later.

    All a bit of craic

  • Lionel Hutz

    The only point here is though that these people are planning to create a criminal justice system were defendants just dont stand a chance. I mean all they have is a solicitor and barrister against the PPS, PSNI, FSNI whatever. What chance do they have?

    Not to get principled or anything but someone has to say no!

  • slappymcgroundout

    Why are you giving legal aid to persons outside of the criminal justice system? You can have a legal aid office, funded partly by the state and partly by private donation, but except for the director of the place, no one gets rich working for legal aid. Those with a sense of public service feel at home there.

    A public defender office is also appropriate though you’ll still need private counsel for cases wherein the PDs is conflicted out, etc.

    I read a piece that reported that the Top 100 made over 21,000,000. There should be a cap on the max hourly rate, no more than 100 pounds per hour and there should be some other cap on max total for a case (graded according to expected difficulty of case, and if you limit the legal aid to criminal defense what usually is the case is the crime charged serves as surrogate for difficulty of case, i.e., murder gets higher max than manslaughter which gets higher max than simple assault, and you can have a provision that allows the judge to grant a cap exception at her/his discretion on motion of counsel). Now back to the 21 mil, if one assumed that the attorney billed 1,800 hours per year at 100 pounds per hour that would be 180,000 per year. Multiply that by 100 and you get 18 million. So some are billing more than 1,800 hours and/or at more than 100 pounds per hour. The 1,800 hours is fine, but not more than 100 pounds per hour.

    Would otherwise be a goddamned good idea if you didn’t split your legal profession. One human can do the job. Attorneys in America do it everyday. The split is as idiotic as both Gerry having to become steward of some god-forsaken place that no one cares about in order to resign and those wigs that some wear (you might also want to drop the “lord” crap as well, since one of these days, some American lawyer is going to pro hac vice in and say, your Honor, and I do mean, your Honor, as you are not my lord (and under the breath, damn redcoats)).

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Lionel,

    In my view, what Ford should have done before this dispute was to agree with the NI Law Society to form a specialist duty solicitor scheme similar to that which operates in England.

    When I practised in England, I joined two duty solicitor schemes. They are extremely difficult to get onto. You are required, not only to go onto specialist courses. You also then have to face an extremely difficult interview. When I first went for interview on one of the London panels, I underestimated the level of knowledge required. It was no good knowing where to look up something. You were required to have certain core knowledge rolling off your tongue. You needed to know (a) Police Powers (b) the codes of PACE (c) a comprehensive knowledge of the criminal law which included details of all the common offences, their defences and the law of evidence. By the way, that was before the Human Rights Act became law.

    Because the duty solicitor scheme involves so much specialisation, it also means that that it is much easier to reach deals with the Professional organisations on matters such as legal aid rates, particularly as each side (the Government and the Professional body) become much more expert at arguing their side of the case.

    Setting up such a specialist panel would be a major challenge for the Northern Ireland Law Society. There is already a poor precedent (the Children Order Panel) and they would need to avoid making the same mistakes and ensure that it runs to a very high standard.

    The Children Order Panel – my experience

    After the Children Order Panel panel was set up (about 1998), the standard of knowledge of solicitors entering it was far too low (way below that of the equivalent panel in England) principally because it was too easy to pass the interview. Too many solicitors ended up being admitted to the panel with the result that the Guardian Ad Litem Agency ended up being able to allocate only 3 new cases per year to each panel member. Unlike England, you hardly ever would see an NI Panel solicitor conducting their own advocacy, except for interim hearings in the Family Proceedings Court. In practically all other cases, they used counsel. Another big defect in this system was the training (or lack of it) which solicitors were given for the purpose of communicating with abused children. Solicitors are obliged communicate with their child clients not just to ascertain their wishes and feelings but to take instructions, if they are competent to given them. When I attended a the two day couse in Belfast for the Children Order Panel 10 years ago, the tiny part of it which was devoted to child development and communicating with children was utterly pathetic. I hope the standard of training has improved considerably since then.

    A panel solicitor is obliged to not just to assess the competency of a child to give instructions but to devise ways to enable a child to instruct them, if there is a chance that they can. In practice, this means seeing child clients more often, in their own environment. Quite often this meant having a lot of short meetings. It is obvious that Northern Ireland solicitors did very little of that because when I put in my claims for costs for my outdoor child visits, the NI Legal Services Commission, in their ignorance, would always query them and suggest that so many visits were unnecessary.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Seymour, Lionel,

    Out of interest, what happens when there’s a criminal case for a client who is not entitled to legal aid ie an independently wealthy client ? Does his solicitor charge the same rates ?

    Some of the arguments being made don’t seem consistent. If it doesn’t pay to do legal aid work, even on the old rates, then why do people bother doing it ? And if the pay really is so bad, how come solicitors seem to be able to go on strike for so long without going bust ?

    slappy, you might have noticed the other day that President Obama addressed the assembled members of Parliament in Westminster Hall as “my Lords”. I’m sure there is a justification for a split legal profession which m’learned friends up there will no doubt be happy to outline. You might find it generally useful to understand why other countries do things differently rather than suggesting that everyone should simply copy the American system.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Comrade,

    Solicitor’s will know more about the ins and outs of getting legal aid than I would. However, my understanding is that if clients are independently welathy enough to fund crown court proceedings then they have to do it. With the regards to the rates, I always charge more when it is not legal aid supported. The only criminal work that I ever do that is not legal aid work is the driving offence type crime where its not serious enough to get legal aid. You still run a contest or apply for bail of make a plea as you usually do and you always charge more. Last time I had to do that, it was typically 30% more.

    It does pay to do legal aid but as solicitors digest the cuts (in some cases it amounts to 50%) they realise they cannot run it effectively. It would be a loss leader for them to spend the hours doing what is neccessary for the rate they are charged. More importantly the Law Society know this and know the standard will drop so they to act.

    I am doubtful as to how long solicitors can go on strike, certainly before they have to lay people off. Many will break the strike but it will not be enough (I dont think) to carry all the crown court briefs required. Im not sure how long they can do it for.

  • Old Mortality

    Kevin Barry
    NIHRC says: “However, it is the duty of the Department of Justice to ensure that legal representation is made available in Northern Ireland, so that no one is detained or tried without access to professional advice and representation.”

    Now consider how the DoJ can fulfil that duty. Can it force the lawyers to represent them? No.
    So please let us know if there is any alternative to paying the lawyers what they want. That is the only implication I can draw from NIHRC’s comments. Had they confied themselves to pointing out a potential threat to human rights, no exception could reasonably have been taken but they could not resist arguing that it was the repsonsibility of the state. No suggestion that the behaviour of the lawyers might be questionable.

  • Old Mortality

    Lionel
    There is one flaw in your otherwise impressive accdounting for the costs of public defence service. That is the assumption that pay should be comparable to that of doctors. Their pay is higher than it need be because of the custom of applying the same scales across the UK. Doctors in NI are overpaid to the extent that it is almost certainly more than is required to ensure an adequate supply of qualified personnel. Because the private medical sector in NI is so small, doctors simply have nowhere else to go. The same argument applies in principle to legal services. Although there is relatively more private legal work, I don’t think there’s enough to keep all the lawyers and barristers gainfully employed.

  • Comrade Stalin

    So please let us know if there is any alternative to paying the lawyers what they want.

    Getting lawyers in from elsewhere in the UK. It’s been done before.

  • Crubeen

    Comrade,

    Lawyers from elsewhere may not have rights of audience in the High Court or Crown Court … they have to be called to the Bar in Norn Iren to be able to address the Court. And I doubt that the Bar would be very keen to call any likely to undercut the fees.

    Some years ago I was at the High Court and standing around whilst barristers went to and from in the usual effort to avert having to co into court and reveal how little they understood the case they were supposed to be representing. To avert boredom I stepped into the Appeal Court where three Judges were hearing an appeal against conviction and sentence for, from memory, two drug dealers. Both appellants sat in the dock looking suitably bemused whilst their “briefs”, with much tut tut tutting and ahems and ahas and stuttering and stammering, tried to make a case that each appellant had some thousands of tablets of illicit substances for “personal use.” One judge posed a pertinent question to one of the barristers (there were about four of them) to which he could not give a cogent or, indeed, coherent response … and I thought to myself that this is all on legal aid …. A few years later an old lag casually assured me that it was routine to lodge an appeal, if for no other reason that it got one a day away from jail.

    The quality of advocacy that I saw then was pathetic and I doubt that it has improved. as for the restrictive or “spanish” practices, they have to be seen to be believed. An example or two – if one side hires a QC the other side must hire a QC – junior counsel are seen and not heard when in the presence of a QC – a client cannot communicate directly with his/her barrister unless the solicitor is present or if written, it goes through the solicitor.

    All of the legal profession should be put on conditional fee arrangements – a small basic rate plus a handsome success fee for winning. That might encourage more guilty pleas, fewer appeals and a further saving in the legal aid budget.

    A further means of cutting expenditure would be a mandatory death penalty for anybody who failed to plead guilty and was convicted … there would be no re-offending.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Old Mortality,

    There is one flaw in your otherwise impressive accdounting for the costs of public defence service. That is the assumption that pay should be comparable to that of doctors. Their pay is higher than it need be because of the custom of applying the same scales across the UK. Doctors in NI are overpaid to the extent that it is almost certainly more than is required to ensure an adequate supply of qualified personnel. Because the private medical sector in NI is so small, doctors simply have nowhere else to go. The same argument applies in principle to legal services. Although there is relatively more private legal work, I don’t think there’s enough to keep all the lawyers and barristers gainfully employed.

    ——————-

    Well what would you recommend for pay. By the way, I ran on Basic Salaries. At the end of the day, my rough guide had an average pay for these lawyers of around £50,000. Say we took it down to £40,000 (less than an MLA). Thats still £10,000,000

    Thats on the basis of 250 lawyers by the way. Thats a very conservative estimate. And as you believe that there is no other means of gainful employment, I would point out again that there are over 3,000 lawyers in Northern Ireland – so clearly there is gainful employment.

    I would say that 75% of work that lawyers do is not funded by the Tax Payer. Its very hard to estimate. but when you consider that the real lifeblood for most solicitor firms had been conveyancing and general legal matters. ALso bearing in mind that in order to get legal aid, you have to be earning no more than around £250 a week. Anyone who has a legal matter and earns over that, doesn’t get legal aid. It just so happens that most criminals who are prosecuted dont earn over £250 a week. But other legal matters – think about it. I do some employment law. Its not legal aid assisted. Commercial Work, Matrimonal Matters, Land Disputes. The list is endless. You greatly overestimate the amount of time spent doing criminal work.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Crubeen,

    Do you realise how much mroe money you earn if you run the case rather than settle it? The fact is that most cases are settled at the door of the court because the Client’s realise “shit, I actually have to give evidence, make this go away”

  • Lionel Hutz

    ALso Crubeen,

    Legal Aid is subject not only to a means test, but a merit test. Whilst as you don’t have a choice but to defend a criminal prosecution the merits test is automatically satisfied – for an appeal, it has to be demonstrated to the LSC that there is merit. That doesn’t mean that there wont be difficult quesitons though. Alot of the rest of your response is clearly nonsense. If there is a chance of an appeal, ofcourse a convicted prisoner will go for it. You also have to get leave from the court of appeal.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Back to the topic,

    Old Mortality said,

    “Now consider how the DoJ can fulfil that duty. Can it force the lawyers to represent them? No.
    So please let us know if there is any alternative to paying the lawyers what they want.”

    Its a pertinent point. The problem here has been that Ford and co treated the lawyers in a similar way to how Ruane treated Grammar Schools. There was a lack of proper and meaningful consultation with the people who actually use the system and know (Im guessing) better than the new minister what is needed in the system. Because the legal professions are willing to accept cuts. I don’t think that on the actual figure for the budget, there is much difference. The big thing has not been the amount of money lost but rather where the cuts are being made, which has left certain cases impossible to run.

    For example, the Very high Cost Cases are those which for several weeks (i cant remember the exact number of days). These are the cases that are the most serious criminal proseciutions, which take so long because they involve so much scrutiny of usually Forensics or vast numbers of witnesses. There had been a certficate granted in such cases, which increased the rates by about 30% in recognition of the significantly more time that would be required to prepare the case for trial. Under the new rules, the VHCC certificate is gone. On top of that there is a general cut in the crown court rate of around 25% for solicitors. That means that VHCCs now recieve less than half the previous level of remuneration.

    Look beyod the spin here.

    And I ask again. Is £80,000,000 or so actually alot?

    They decimated the system in England and Wales in recent years, why would we follow that!

  • slappymcgroundout

    “I’m sure there is a justification for a split legal profession which m’learned friends up there will no doubt be happy to outline. You might find it generally useful to understand why other countries do things differently rather than suggesting that everyone should simply copy the American system.”

    Let me amend my statement. It is done with no division in 9/10ths of the rest of the world. Happy now? And think of some good reasons, please, rather than a blind trust, when your own govt said:

    Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (1993)

    Found that defence cases were frequently inadequately prepared.
    Advocacy standards were low, on the part of both barristers and solicitors, possibly because of inadequate training.
    Criticised pupil barristers being allowed to take on cases during their second six months of training.
    More advocacy training needed.
    Lawyers frequently failed to advise convicted defendants about their appeal rights.
    Of those lawyers who did mention appeal rights to their clients, many seriously misunderstood the powers of the Court of Appeal.

    To continue:

    Report by the Consumers’ Association (1995)

    Researchers telephoned a number of solicitors asking for advice about simple consumer problems
    Much of the advice was inadequate or simply wrong
    Two years later, the majority of the 79 solicitors phoned gave incomplete or incorrect advice

    And here:

    Fusion of the Legal Profession
    See Jacqueline Martin, The English Legal System, ch.12 p201, for details of the following arguments for and against the fusion of the legal profession.
    Advantages

    Costs would be reduced.
    There would be less duplication of work.
    The system would be more efficient.
    There would be more continuity.
    Fusion would allow a later choice of specialisation to be made by students.

    Note the Top 4. So, please, Comrade, come up with some damn good reasons why you are locked into tradition along with those wigs, since the Top 4 seem rather compelling to me.

    Disadvantages

    It would lead to the loss of the independent Bar
    The specialist skills of advocacy might be lost
    The second opinion of a barrister on a case can bring an element of objectivity to it
    The ‘cab-rank’ principle would be lost

    Who in Deity’s name says that you can’t ask another lawyer to review the file and then you speak about the case matter, and in doing so, you relate your view of the case, your case strategy and you ask the soul, do you see it the same way I do, is this the way to go, am I missing anything, etc.

    And what are the specialist skills of advocacy? Some are born to be trial lawyers, some grow into it, and some never will be because that’s just not them. And for the naturals and the grown into, if they don’t say, after 15 years, that they are better trial lawyer now than they were 5 years out, then something is wrong with them.

    And I don’t know what our gal means by “independent bar”. We have an independent bar here. All that the Supreme Court does is issue licenses and then impose discipline, if necessary, following the disciplinary process (an office of disciplinary counsel, with a process that includes a hearing committee should formal proceedings be desired, a disciplinary board to review the hearing committee and the Supreme Court reviews the board). Everyone else is on our own. Heck, 10 years ago you didn’t have to be a member of the Bar Association. The Supreme Court made it a unified bar, requiring us all to be dues paying members, but that’s it. We set our own rules, elect our person to be President, VP, Treasurer, Secretary, etc. What’s not independent about that? The rules of ethics are otherwise treated just like other rules of court and so the Supreme Court proposes a body to review the rules, propose deletions, additions, modifications, whatever, and it follows the same route from there as does the rest of the state rule-making process, ie., notice to the public, public hearing and comment, etc. The rules of ethics otherwise seem fine to me. And, of course, should we deem a rule of ethics to be in violation of some right and/or law, then you sue the court, either on behalf of yourself or your client (or both). And the licensing that I mentioned is a review of your fitness to practice law, which includes simply being found of good moral character and you pass the bar exam (which is over 4 days, 3 days of essay type questions and then on the Wednesday there, you take the MultiState Bar Exam that is given nationally to everyone taking their bar exam, and all on that same Wednesday). And if you pass, you appear for the ceremony, raise your right hand and take the oath and you’re in, a member of the Bar.

    And note when you got here and maybe why:

    During the nineteenth century, the English legal system divided. In basic terms, the division arose when the Bar agreed to give all conveyancing work and all direct access to the clients to solicitors. In return for this, the Barristers received sole rights of audience in the higher courts, as well as sole rights to become senior judges.

    You can guess why, as it shouldn’t be that hard. Now back to my initial remark again:

    In most countries there is a single legal profession: individual lawyers may choose to specialise in advocacy, in working for a single corporate client, or in providing day-to-day legal advice for individuals, but all have essentially the same qualifications and training and the same professional rights. The American lawyer, the French avocat and the German Rechtsanwalt may represent a client in court one day and spend the next dealing with wills or contracts for clients coming into his office. Even in those jurisdictions where there are two or more categories of lawyer, these are generally based on a common professional framework, with some lawyers achieving a higher status through additional training or experience.

    And to add:

    In England and Wales (and in the separate Scots legal system) this is not the case: prospective lawyers are expected to decide at an early stage of their training whether they intend to be solicitors or barristers (advocates in Scotland), and that choice largely determines their whole career. It is possible for a barrister to re-train as a solicitor, or vice versa, but that involves two or three years’ full-time study with no income and a fresh start on the bottom rung of a new professional ladder.

    For many years, therefore, there has been debate as to whether there is value in maintaining the distinction between solicitors and barristers, or whether the two main branches of the profession should be fused. The Law Society has repeatedly suggested that the legal profession should adopt a similar pattern to that of the medical profession, with common training for all to allow them to practise as general lawyers.

    And, please, don’t get outraged at some imagined American arrogance. Here’s how far back in the stone age you all were:

    Before the 1990 Act, barristers had been unable to sue for their fees but had enjoyed immunity from suit in respect of their allegedly negligent presentation of a case in court. The Act allowed a barrister to make a contract for his fees, subject to any professional rules laid down by the Bar Council, and extended to all authorised advocates the barrister’s immunity from suit, thereby confirming in statutory form the implications of several judicial decisions. [This immunity was subsequently removed (for all advocates, including barristers) by the Lords' decision in Hall v Simons.]

    You couldn’t sue your lawyer for negligence? And you wonder why the survey found that most didn’t know what that the goddamned law is. Of course not, since they can’t be sued for such malfeasance (ie., if you can’t be sued, there’s no reason to know). And the attorney-client fee agreement, wow, there’s a novel proposition. First of day law school, Gideon Kanner, an expert in real property law in California, probably second only to Jesse Dukeminier, but first day of real property in year one, he says that the two most important things that a lawyer needs to know are: How to set your fee and how to collect it.

    And, Comrade, sorry, but you clearly don’t get the concern for the client here:

    Another advantage of fusion would be the improved quality of representation if the lawyer presenting the case in court had learned the facts at first hand from the client, at an early stage in proceedings. Such a change would reduce the risk of the lawyer’s overlooking or misunderstanding an important piece of evidence, though the general lawyer’s lack of advocacy experience might counteract this apparent advantage.

    Do you know how many times, out of the blue, when I am doing something wholly unrelated, the subconscious mind lets the conscious mind know, Yo, conscious mind, here’s the solution to that one problem in the one case matter… I’ll be talking to a friend about the ballgame, or to the woman about our plans for Saturday night, and boom, interruption in thought process and suddenly the intractable isn’t so intractable anymore. Or else, out of the blue, suddenly there’s a dawning realization that maybe I could slant the focus of the case this direction instead, not that there was any verdict killing deficiency in the existing slant, but this might be just a tad bit better and we’re looking for any and every edge we can get. In other words, your subconscious mind is thinking of things that you aren’t aware of and it helps to have that mind evaluating and working on the case from day one. And if you can’t see that, then you don’t know what it means to be a trial lawyer and you don’t know what it means to have your client’s interest at heart.

    Lastly, let me help you out. I asked for reasons why the change back in the day, the split coming into existence. Wasn’t done because some were concerned about providing legal representation at trial. That much is painfully certain. Do you know how I know that? The process works from back to front. You interview the client and any other essential persons almost immediately, and you review those docs, if any, that seem to be relevant to the matter. THEN YOU WRITE YOUR CLOSING STATEMENT FOR TRIAL. AND THE REST OF YOUR EFFORT IS SIMPLY TO GATHER ALL THOSE FACTS AND PREPARING ALL THOSE WITNESSES SO THAT YOU CAN MAKE THAT CLOSING STATEMENT. And along with that, you get a good idea of what your proposed jury instructions are going to be, but wait, before that, you need decide, general or special verdict form, and if the latter, special verdict form, what will you be asking the jurors to decide, specifically? SO THE CASE WORKS FROM BACK TO FRONT, CLOSING STATEMENT, VERDICT FORM, JURY INSTRUCTIONS AND ON BACK IN REVERSE ORDER TO YOUR OPENING STATEMENT. Sure, there may be changes when some things are discovered, say your client didn’t tell you all of the truth, misapprehended some aspects of the matter, etc., but when that happens you immediately revise your closing statement, etc. And so that’s how I know that the division had nothing to with effective representation at trial, since by that time, your barrister can’t go back and work the case up to prove his closing statement, his verdict form, and have the facts that the jury can use to rule in the client’s favor based on the anticipated jury instructions, the verdict form, and the closing statement. So when they made the deal to shovel off some work to their exclusion while getting their own exclusive benefit, it wasn’t for the clients. Again, that much is painfully certain. And I trust that you can see how the closing statement being done in the beginning gives focus to the entirety of the rest of your effort along the way. Otherwise, you’re going to be a pilotless and rudderless ship in distress. And here, from one your own, presumably wig and all:

    On 23 March 2010, the SEC was privileged to have Andrew Hochhauser QC present a Masters of Advocacy lecture, modestly entitled: ‘The Nuts and Bolts of Trial Advocacy’. The lecture did much more than merely present the nuts and bolts as the presenter, with 32 years experience at the Bar, treated a packed Inner Temple Hall to an absolute masterclass on the essentials of advocacy. The lecture was broken into three parts: preparation, the opening and cross-examination.

    The importance of preparation was summed up in this cautionary note: “Good advocacy begins well in advance of any trial.”

    Yeah, and for what he left out, it starts in the beginning, early on, with you putting your feet up on the desk, having some deep thought, and then typing into your word processing software, your anticipated closing statement. And here is the giveaway in differing thought process:

    After you’ve prepared your written opening or closing, even a skeleton argument, put them to one side and come back to them.

    The closing argument, even a skeleton, never gets put aside. NEVER EVER. It is the thing that, as I said, brings the focus for your entire effort in representing your client. Why in writing class, you start with an outline. Closing argument serves the same purpose, as it is the outline of your case. The rest of your effort is simply putting the meat on the bone.

  • Kevin Barry

    Old mortality,

    The alternative is to sit down and negotiate rather than unilaterally imposing rates that make this work a loss leader. A balanced statement from the NIHRC and since it doesn’t conform to your opinion you’re peeved, hilarious.

  • Old Mortality

    KB
    I’m glad to have provided you with some amusement. However, a negotiation appears most unlikely to be successful unless the DoJ makes a substantial concession on payments. That will result in the lawyers being paid more than the DoJ considers appropriate in current fincancial conditions. The statement is not balanced because nowhere does it remind the lawyers of their ethical obligations towards those in need of representation.
    If justice is delayed because the accused demands to be represented by a particular solicitor and/or a particular barrister who are unable to deal with the case until a much later date, are the human rights of the victim infringed?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jesus H Christ slappy, if you expect me to read through that splittle-flecked rant you must be off your head.

    Old Mortality – I agree, the NIHRC statement is firmly “give them what they want or it’s your fault”. Quite shocking actually.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The debate around fusion essentially boils down to whether you want to sacrifice specialised advocacy for some saving in cost.

    If you were only to have general lawyers and you wanted to have continuity, that lawyer would be taking the case from the Police Station to Trial. There may be a saving because there would because this lawyer would not have to brief counsel, appraise him/her of the facts of the case and there may be a reduction in the number of consultations (I say “may” because I would say most of the consultations would happen in any case). That would be the advantage.

    The disadvantage would be that this general lawyer would spend little time in court. Taking all the work involved in a defence for say an indictable offence, I would be surprised if the lawyer would spend more than 5% of his/her time in court. Much of the focus in the early stages (i.e. the Police Station, PACE interviews) is to avoid charges being brought -rather than defending charges. Charges are not inevitable. So for every case that involves a charge for an indicitbale offence, this lawyer would deal with perhaps dozens of cases that are instead dealt with on a summary basis and many many more that never come to court. Significant time would be spent by this lawyer in the police station. Even for those cases that are brought to the Crown Court, there are significant steps to be taken in the magistrates court whilst the PPS gets all the evidence and prepares the case. This can involve several appearances in the Magistrates court with associated Bail Applications etc before the Magistrate makes a decision as to whether the case goes to trial. When a case does go to the Crown Court, the work involved in preparing it (the research of the case-law and the many and complex sentencing rules; the administrative side of preparing witnesses – instructing professional experts if needs be; the preparation for trial itself including study of the documentation from the PPS) would mean that the actual time spent in Court by this lawyer as a proportion of their actually time spent working in the criminal law would be very very small. They would not therefore develop the expertise in advocacy required to run a Crown Court case.

    The advantage of the of keeping them separate is that it is relatively easy to divide the work involved in criminal law so that the Solicitor can devote the time in Police Station to firstly avoid charges and secondly in the alternative to avoid to defendant incriminating himself. Secondly the solicitor will have the ability to prepare the administrative side of the case upon directions from Counsel. This frees up Counsel to the extent that most of the specialised Crown Court Barristers that I know will spend most of their court-term days in the Crown Court running cases. They develop the skills of advocacy required

  • Lionel Hutz

    CS,

    The NIHRC complaint seems to me to be criticising the DoJ for failing to deal with the matter effectively. Its not really about what they should do or should not do. Its about what it failed to do.

    To put it simply, the DoJ have dealt with this in a similar vein to how Ruane dealt with grammar schools. Its been like war.

    I have sympathy with Ford to the extent that he had a year in the job and obviously had to make some tough decisions quickly because of the budget, but he has come out to fight with legal professions and its a very PR friendly stunt for him. Further, I am convinced that information is being fed to MSM so that they can run a headline about the scandals of legal aid. The MSM seem to me to be used as a propoganda tool by the Executive. For example, a few days after the Hazel Stewart Trial, I saw a report in the BT talking about how much it cost. The bills wouldn’t even have been done by then.

  • DC

    The debate around fusion essentially boils down to whether you want to sacrifice specialised advocacy for some saving in cost.

    Well I think the Public Defender Office is a rational and serious enough concept to consider, given the lack of public money around to pay out big fees associated with legal services run by the private sector.

    The only group who aren’t being serious nor rational are those in the private sector – these lawyers etc – who no longer accept government money nor represent their clients.

    Does the Human Rights Commission propose any alternatives in the circumstances?

    The private sector is largely associated with innovation and proper market choices are based on the freedom to choose – law enforcement is driven by compulsion and lawyers mainly follow procedures and rules – this is bread and butter public sector stuff it is regulatory work, not innovatory private sector stuff. What has developed in the NI legal system are protectionist bubbles with lawyers charging too much for little specialisms thanks to the way the law is enforced on certain people using certain laws. This is not free market stuff!

    The Public Defender Office for criminal cases in particular is worth a look in – it should be blended in over time in conjunction with the current system of legal aid fees, with a view to balancing out (if not replacing) the current legal services system – having one with a better blend of public and private sources of legal representation. Rather than government and taxpayers being forced to rely soley on v costly private-sector lawyers.

  • Lionel Hutz

    DC,

    I responded to your proposal at 4:04pm yesterday. What do you think of it? How would you respond to the points I make?

    How much do you think that the OPD would result in savings?

    Not free market? There are 600 Barristers in Northern Ireland. We are all independent from one another. The only thing I will agree with you is that the Legal Aid has meant that there is no competition on price because the price is set by the LSC. There is still of course competition on performance. But, how can you say its overpriced? What is a reasonable rate to you?

  • DC

    The fees are based on the ‘private sector’ approach.

    Anyway, at the moment it seems the legal system is prohibitively expensive which must surely signal the end of the current system.

    If the Human Rights Commission keeps up its work the politicians and government will have to signal to the police to stop enforcing crime, less enforcement, less criminals using courts. That’s the only way round it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    DC,

    ‘it seems’?

    What do you think is acceptable? Is the Criminal Justice System not a priority area?

    To some extent there has been a public policy decision to make people elegible for legal aid for many different problems. Thats unusual. There is legal aid to get contact with your kids, to sue your neighbour, to take a judical review action. SHould some of that be cut out?

  • DC

    Lionel

    You could be right about cutting back funding for other types of legal work – but I’m not thinking in terms of sectors at the moment more so the legal system.

    If push came to shove I would perhaps in one of my more darker moods opt for Tesco Law and use that concept to drive down prices via competition. But that is just more money to large corporations, rather than finding a way to bring down legal fees by having more local lawyers and solicitors take on more cases for less.

    The vast majority of legal services are better situated in the public sector and paid for out of taxes – as taxes are the price we all pay for civilisation. Fees from the private sector are just that – fees from the private sector.

    This is why I would rather see a public sector Public Defender Office so that there could be more people – more legal officers – taking on more criminal cases but on less pay because government would have an office structured in a way that more lawyers were working for less.

    At the moment there are a small number of lawyers being made millionaires by the state simply because they have cornered ‘the market’ and clients want to use them.

    For any good market to flourish fairly regulation is required, governance is required – via democracy – and the powers must be used in a way that gets stuck in and breaks up little protectionist bubbles so that resources are used fairly – esp taxpayers’ money.

    The current system isn’t working.

  • Kevin Barry

    Dc,

    Glad to see you’ve answered some of Lionel’s point raised. All I read is poorly thought out rhetoric with little provision of statistics to back them up.

    I think they should go for some kind of Tesco law, watch the rush to the bottom in the provision of criminal legal services and people starting to get really annoyed with their representation no being of a particularly high standard. As I’ve noted before, the talent will go elsewhere if the pay is awful.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Here are two conflicting statements

    (1) Wikipedia

    “Today legal aid in England and Wales costs the taxpayer £2bn a year – a higher per capita spend than anywhere else in the world – and is available to around 29% of adults”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_aid

    (2) UTV News

    Legal aid costs in Northern Ireland have risen from £38m to £102m in ten years.

    The cost of legal aid in the region is significantly higher per capita than England and Wales.

    http://www.u.tv/News/NI-lawyers-face-legal-aid-pressure/7019389f-3619-498a-9a06-335322e62a3e

    Is one of these statements correct? If so, which?

    The population of NI is about £1.76m (2008). The population of England and Wales is £52m (2001). The latter is 29.5 times the size of the former. The England and Wales payout is only 19.6 times that of Northern Ireland so, on the face of it, the UTV statement is right.

    It could also be that Northern Ireland has the most expensive legal aid payout per capita in the World.

    There may be scope for cutting down the legal aid budget somewhere but has Mr. Ford picked the right part of the legal aid budget to make a siginificant economy?

    In my opinion, too much money is spent on divorce (not ancillary relief but the main suit). I dont have any figures for what that particular item costs the taxpayer. My guess is that it would be very significant.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The current system isn’t working
    ——————–

    How is it that you have come to that conclusion. How is the legal system not working?

    I don’t suggest that the system is perfect and I do not oppose change but the only change I hear of is ‘make it cheaper.’ I don’t think that is neccesarily a good thing either. High costs can make people think again about using the courts for every little dispute. We are seeing changes anyway. The rise in mediation as alternative dispute resolution is an example of lawyers finding cheaper ways to achieve a mutually acceptable outcome. The courts should remain a last resort.

    The biggest problem with legal aid is that there is no disincentive for the public to find another. Family disputes over children are perfect examples of this. The poorest people go to court to see their child for an extra few hours and really use the children to get at their ex-partners. And it’s free and theyre within their rights. We live in rights society ofcourse with no responsibility. People believe they should get others to represent them to excercise their rights and they think they should not have to pay for it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Ford has proposed to do it by slashing criminal legal aid which is less than half of the overall budget.

  • Comrade Stalin

    In my opinion, too much money is spent on divorce (not ancillary relief but the main suit). I dont have any figures for what that particular item costs the taxpayer. My guess is that it would be very significant.

    I’d heard this as well. It stands to reason that people who are entitled to legal aid have less motivation to sort out their problems/differences without resorting to legal action.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Well, across the water Kenneth Clarke is making cuts largely by cutting certain areas out of the budget. Its not entirely unreasonable.

  • Framer

    The Minister of Justice:
    If a case is, or is expected to be, in court in Northern Ireland for 25 days, it is regarded as complex and higher fees are therefore paid, whereas the equivalent time period in England and Wales is, I believe, 40 days. Many more cases in Northern Ireland are certified to have both senior and junior counsel than is the case in England and Wales. That raises issues about how that can be maintained in the light of a budget that is under severe pressure and if we are to ensure that those in most need of basic access to justice can receive it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    One final point that I would make about all of this:

    There does not seem to me to have been any evaluation of what exactly is driving up the cost of legal aid. There seems to be a general assumption that it is because the rates have gone up. That isn’t the case. We are told that that the amount spent has increased from around £40,000,000 to £100,000,000 in ten years. Now that increase is not as a consequence of the rates, it cant be. Most legal aid rates have in fact stayed static for a number of years.

    If the Minister is really serious about cutting cost, then he might want to find out what these cost drivers are. For example, the Courts themselves are very inefficient. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being in court – any court- will know all about the time spent waiting for the case to come up. Now if a lawyer is in court and the case takes one hour but the time spent in the courthouse is five or six hours because of the delay in getting the case on, then the costs are needlessly put up.

    If I were the Minister, I would radically shake up how courts operate. Give alocated slots to cases for example and make it so that the case will definately be heard at that time. In Criminal Indictments, make sure that if the PPS are slow in getting their file together that counsel for the defendant does not have to appear in person to mention the case. That can cost several hundred a go.

    Increase the monetray jurisdiction of the County Court from £15,000 to £50,000. That would mean that vast amounts of cases would not be clogging up the high courts at a higher cost when they could be dealt with much mroe efficiently in the County Court.

    Also, the big one for crime is to attempt to simplify the crimes and sentencing laws. So much time and therefore money is spent negotiating through that. And reverse some of the ridiculous crimes created by the Labour Government, There are insignificant ones but some are quite significant. Careless Driving causing Death carries a very grave sentence but makes no sense to me at all. It was just introduced because juries dont like convicting motorists.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Comrade,

    Just to give a bit more detail on what I have suggested, this is such an easy reform to make, it is almost a “no brainer.” For the following reason, I believe there are huge savings to be made.

    In England and Wales, they operate a special procedure list which cuts out the need for the Petitioner to attend the hearing when a decree is made. Instead, the Petitioner’s evidence is on a simple affidavit. The system has operated successfully in England since 1977. There are no legal aid certificates issued for undefendend divorce. Instead, the the Legal Advice and Assistance scheme allows a petitioner 3 hours of a solicitors time, which includes the time spent drafting a divorce petition.

    The result is that the average amount of legal aid public money spent on solicitors fees for each petitioner in England is about £150 + VAT. In Northern Ireland, the ‘divorce only’ element (because this is usually mixed up with ancillary relief) is in the region of £1,000. Apart from the saving on solicitors fees, in England, they almost never use Counsel for bare uncontested divorces. In Northern Ireland they are regularly used both for drafting the divorce petition and attenting the final hearing so I would estimate that the additional saving in Counsel’s fee is, roughly, a further £300 + VAT per case. In addition, the absence of a divorce trial would also provide a cost saving to the Court Service budget.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    The following is a copy of a mail shot letter from the Northern Ireland Court Service to all Northern Ireland Solicitors

    “25th May 2011

    “Dear Sirs,

    “As you may be aware, the Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) (Amendment) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2011 came into operation on 13 April. These Rules amended the Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings (Costs) Rules (Northern Ireland) 2005 by:

    – Removing provisions in respect of Very High Costs Cases;
    – Removing provisions in respect of exceptionality;
    – Reducing the levels of (most) standard fees payable to solicitors and counsel by 25% and 20% respectively – some of the smaller fees were left untouched; and
    – Introducing certain enhanced fees dependant on the number of pages of prosecution evidence; and
    – Introducing new fees for solicitors where the number of pages of prosecution evidence in a case exceeds 750

    “These amendments were introduced after a prolonged period of dialogue with the Law Society and the Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) considers that the fees, although reduced, when taken in the round still represent fair remuneration for work on Crown Court cases. Moreover, remuneration for this work in Northern Ireland is in the region of 30% higher than in England and Wales.

    “The NICTS has been monitoring developments in relation to solicitors withdrawing from cases being committed for trial in the Crown Court and is aware that this is not happening in every case. Where a solicitor withdraws from a case, it is the responsibility of the assisted party to seek to obtain representation from another solicitor. As assisted parties will not know which solicitors are currently willing to take on Crown Court work, it is difficult for them to identify such a solicitor. In these circumstances, I am writing to all solicitors’ firms in Northern Ireland with a view to compiling a list of solicitors’ firms in Northern Ireland with a view to compiling a list of solicitors willing to take on Crown Court work under the new remuneration arrangements.

    “Such a list would assist unrepresented defendants to secure representation as quickly as possible and this would help mitigate the impact of the current withdrawal on unrepresented defendants and victims. It would not be out intention to publish this list, but rather to advise of its existence and provide copies to individual assisted parties on request.

    “If you would like your firm to be included on the list, you should complete and sign the pro forma form enclosed with this letter and return it to

    Public Legal Services Division
    3rd Floor, Bedford House
    16-22 Bedford Street
    Belfast BT2 7FD

    “If the form is not returned within 14 days NICTS will assume that your firm does not want to be included on the list and will take no further action

    “Finally, I can advise you that it is out intention that the Rules will be the subject of an early review, that than the statutory review required every two years. This would, however, be dependent on having sufficient cases proceeding through the Crown Court.

    Yours faithfully

    ROBERT CRAWFORD
    Head of Public Legal Services Division”

  • Lionel Hutz

    So what’s your belief seymour, how many will crack

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Lionel,

    That is a very hard one to call. One thing that is astounding is that Ford has the balls to do what he is doing. We have not seen a minister take on the powers that benefit from restrictive practices since the days of Mrs. Thatcher 30 years ago.

    I dont know how many solicitors that the NICS would need on its “rebel” list to break the strike.

    If I was still in practice, I would probably be influenced by the statement that the fees for the work stated are 30% higher than England and Wales.

    The problem for solicitors is that overall legal work is still far below what it was before the recession. This will make a lot of solicitors vulnerable to the temptation to take what is on offer. My hunch (that is all I have) is that the Solicitors will crack.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Seymour,

    “If I was still in practice, I would probably be influenced by the statement that the fees for the work stated are 30% higher than England and Wales.”

    I suspect that many solicitors are relying on the law society to guide them through the figures. The DoJ are saying that our legal aid costs 30% more per capita than E+W. That may be true, but that is not the same as saying that our rates are 30% more. The law society say that the comparison is not like for like, and that the cost is incurred by external factors.

    To add a different dimension to the debate, you noted that the population fo N.I is apporximately 1/30th of the population of England & Wales. You note however, that our legal aid is closer to 1/20 th. That shows an a fialing somewhere.

    But consider this, the two other main costs of the system are the Public Prosecution Service and the NI Courts Tribunals Service.

    In Northern Ireland – our PPS has been allocated a budget of around £37 million. The PPS is a stand alone non-ministerial department. See page 31 of the draft budget. The plan is to reduce it to £34 million

    http://www.northernireland.gov.uk/website_-_draft_budget.pdf

    In England and Wales – the Crown Prosecution Service has a budget of £644 million with palns to reduce to £618 million.

    Realtively therefore our PPS spend per capita is just over 1/17th of that in Engalnd and Wales.

    Turning to the NICTS, I’m having more difficulty with the figueres because these services take in some money from fees etc. The best I have to go on is:

    http://www.dojni.gov.uk/index/publications/department-of-justice-budget-2011-15_1_.pdf

    In NI, we spend £55 million (and note there is to be no reduction over the four year budget).

    In England and Wales, one estimate I have is from here:

    http://www.justice.gov.uk/about/hmcts/

    This shows a spedning from the Ministry of 1.1 Billion. In other words, Northern irelands spending is 1/20th.

    It would suggest to me that it would be wrong to think of legal aid in isolation. Our legal system costs more than in England and Wales with a resulting cost in legal aid. Its no different than other parts of the system

  • Lionel Hutz

    here is some income levels from England and Wales for Barristers:

    Barrister’s average earnings

    Crime: Year 1 £10,000–£30,000

    Year 5 £40,000–£90,000

    Commercial: Year 1 £40,000– £90,000

    Year 5 £70,000–£200,000

    General civil law: Year 1 £20,000– £50,000

    Year 5 £40,000–£120,000

    This is form a report here:

    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/law/article6804621.ece

    Do people really think that we are not producing a two-tier legal system

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Lionel,

    If you look at the figure of 30%, as quoted in the letter from the NICS, you will see that they are not saying “per capita.” They are saying that it is 30% more expensive for this type of work. There is very little difference in Criminal Procedure between NI and England and Wales. I totally agree with you that the Law Society should guide solicitors through the figures. This one, in particular, is one they have got to answer if they want to support the fight.

    “It would suggest to me that it would be wrong to think of legal aid in isolation. Our legal system costs more than in England and Wales with a resulting cost in legal aid. Its no different than other parts of the system”

    Absolutely right. This is a major challenge for Mr. Ford during the next 4 years.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Seymour,

    “If you look at the figure of 30%, as quoted in the letter from the NICS, you will see that they are not saying “per capita.” They are saying that it is 30% more expensive for this type of work.”

    That would indicate to me that the overall sum of money spent on Crown Court Work is 30% more here than it should be. I cannot see how that figure makes sense it is on a per capita basis.

    It is a major challenge for Ford. I have sympathy for a man who has come into a job and in his first year has had to deal with massive cuts. The DoJ budget is decided on the Barnett Formula and we know that the MInsitry of Justice across the water is facing massive cuts, so the DoJ would on the face of it be facing the same cuts. He is going to need the help of the participant’s of the system. It makes no sense to go to war with them.

    I think the analogy with Sinn Fein in Education is relevant. Grammar Schools have a role to play in finding solutions for long term future of secondary education but they have been isolated.

    Ford should not go down the same route with Lawyers. Its in the lawyers interests to come up with a system that brings a sustainable future for Legal Aid and the Legal System generally. They do not want to be faced with the continuous revolution we see in England (I think Labour had about 30 reviews of Legal Aid in its time in government). They need certainty and the signs were that they would work with the Courts Service and DoJ on it. Their proposals were unceremoniously snubbed.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Seymour,

    The technical talk is rather over my head .. but I have heard of people getting legal aid for their separation/divorce proceedings. One particular story I heard had lawyers in front of whatever sort of family court we have here arguing about who would get the toaster or the bread bin. There is no way that people would pay solicitors three or four figure sums to settle things like that if it had to come out of their own pockets.

  • Zig70

    I hear solicitors are struggling and can now only afford 1 german tailored suit at a time instead of two. Does Ford not realize the effect on dodgy fashion outlets? Some good suggestions which makes it look Like Ford didn’t look at the problem enough. I’d say all the public support will be with Ford and the strike will be ill thought off.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There has been a PR campaign against the lawyers for a number fo years leading up to this.

    - Release the pay figures and pick out the handful of firms and barristers that earn lots of money. Also, they fail to point out that these fees will ahve been accumulated over a number of years. Forget about the other 98% of Barristers/ Solicitors who aren’t earning such sums of money. Talk about the fat cat lawyers.

    - Pick out certain examples of cases where there will be a disparity between the England and Wales system and our own to make it seem as though the rate of pay is far more here.

    - Release information on all the legal aid costs of certain highly publicised convicted murders etc. No such information tends to be made available for the many defendants who are found not guilty.

    Its tried and tested because they did it in England to such a great effect. They have produced a system in England that has firms running away from Legal Aid Work in droves and producing a very poor system. And now here we have the comparison with England to contend with in terms of the legal aid rates.

    I think the Law Society and Bar must know that they can never win that game – so I doubt that they will really try.

    The beauty of the DoJ game is that if there are any miscarraiges of justice as a consequence of these reduced fees, it comes back on the lawyers.

  • Cynic2

    Lionel

    Oh you old Socialist!!!

    This is a market. If civil litigation is more challenging or more profitable the best people will go there. Perhaps the intellectual demands of deafening Mrs Miggins on benefit fraud are not as taxing as dealing with complex civil litigation.

  • Cynic2

    “PR campaign against the lawyers for a number fo years”

    … getting so many of their colleagues locked up for Legal Aid Fraud and stealing clients money (never mind conspiracy to murder) may have had an impact on public perception

  • Cynic2

    The reason that costs here are higher is that there are too many small inefficient firms. It really is that simple.

    The best way to do this is put legal aid work out to contract and restrict the number of firms on the list. They will grow and absorb the less efficient.

    On the plus side – better, cheaper and fewer law firms

  • Lionel Hutz

    Lionel
    Oh you old Socialist!!!
    This is a market. If civil litigation is more challenging or more profitable the best people will go there. Perhaps the intellectual demands of deafening Mrs Miggins on benefit fraud are not as taxing as dealing with complex civil litigation.
    ————

    Sure it is. I’m just pointing out that Criminal work is actually less well paid. As for intellectual demands, I would say there are areas that are much more legally complex. I would also say that most litigation is less complex. But the skill involved in presenting a case before a jury is particularly special. It would be a grave shame to lose it.

  • Lionel Hutz

    … getting so many of their colleagues locked up for Legal Aid Fraud and stealing clients money (never mind conspiracy to murder) may have had an impact on public perception
    ———

    Jeez, well as long as it’s rational. Perhaps Colin Howell will make us all hate dentists.

  • Lionel Hutz

    The reason that costs here are higher is that there are too many small inefficient firms. It really is that simple.
    The best way to do this is put legal aid work out to contract and restrict the number of firms on the list. They will grow and absorb the less efficient.
    On the plus side – better, cheaper and fewer law firms

    ———-

    Any evidence to support this?

    My experience suggests the delayand associated expense is not normally caused by the defence.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Enjoying the informative discussion here.

    I have to say that I am sympathetic to the idea that clients should be able to choose who their lawyer is, with the costs then being met through legal aid. That’s how things work with most other state-assisted services. Appointing a public defender office would get you to the point where you essentially have the one part of the DoJ litigating against another part. Of course, the solution may be to move the legal aid end of things over another department as is done with the Planning Appeals Commission.

    Putting out legal aid services to contract would have a similar potential for conflict of interest. I’m sure it’s doable, but there would have to be a lot of checks and balances to make sure that the whole thing would be completely transparent.

  • DC

    Appointing a public defender office would get you to the point where you essentially have the one part of the DoJ litigating against another part.

    That’s not entirely correct.

    It would be an independent office working under government licence and the staff there would be on public sector contracts – the types which have strict payscales – going up by a set amount each year, rather than the current option of relying solely on the private sector and high fees.

    I’m not entirely sure just how it would be staffed – whether both solicitors and barristers could be employed in the same office or not.

    I reckon a public defender office housing largely attorneys / barristers for criminal work would be a good starting point, if possible. This would mean that solicitors who want to work for legal aid fees would have a number of barristers at hand to work along side with. At the moment barristers are playing silly buggers as well, attempting to grind the entire legal system to a halt.

    I don’t see any conflict of interests in having a public defenders office, it would operate much like commissions of whatever ilk do today – commissions criticise the government of the day but also receive funding by that very same government who they hold to account and scrutinise etc.

    Of course legal aid fees are still subject to the same criticism – after all if you follow your argument through surely he who pays the piper ultimately calls the tune? It is still government money going into the pockets of these lawyers and solicitors – except paid for in fees.

  • Lionel Hutz

    DC,

    I wouldn’t suggest that there would be conflict of interest as such. I would however say that these lawyers on their payscales and line management would lose that enterprise which is required for the defence from time to time. Put things in the public sector and you tend to lose all independent thought. Ask a doctor about that – some of them have lost sight of the hippocratic oath and have given in to the politics of the NHS. Put it this way, there would be no Pat Finucanes or Rosemary Nelsons in this OPD.

    Secondly the relationship between client and lawyer does not begin and end with one case. Sadly, many of these criminals are back and forth through the courts for years. You would lose that essential confidence that they have in their solicitor.

    The reality is that there are one or two firms in each town that dominate criminal law. You can look at the pay lists to see who they are, they top the tables. Or go to your local magistrates court and spot te solicitor with the most files. They have that position because of a reputation for a fearless and uncompromising defence they provide. They provide the service you are looking without the added expense of being in the public sector, draining on sick leave and final salary pensions. The other firms will pick up criminal work most likely because they have a relationship with the client in other matters. Detained Persons will say “I want to speak to MY solicitor” not “will you appoint some random public defender for me”. Why in god’s name would you want to lose that!

    N.B. I think you misunderstand the nature of legal aid. It provides assistance to the public and insurance against costs. It follows the client not the solicitor. The client dictates who gets paid. The client pays the piper. Legal aid is just another important of the welfare state that politicians are trying to destroy

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    I note the debate which is moving onto the proposal for a Public Defender system. Leaving money arguments to one side, the following is Article 6(3)(c) of the European convention on Human Rights.

    “3.Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights: ……….

    …..(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require..”

    Should the State legislate out the words in bold in article 6(3)(c)?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Thats interesting Seymour but could that be read as the giving a defendant the right to one of the three options to defend himself:
    - In person or
    - Through legal assistance of his own choosing or
    - To be given it free when the interests of justice so require.

  • Lionel Hutz

    This might be of interest to anyone looking to know what the Assembly is saying about all of this:

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/committees2011/Justice/110526_StatutoryRule.pdf

  • Lionel Hutz

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-13601737

    Also, according to this BBC budget, the legal aid bill has been reduced to £70 million in the last tax year. Why is there reduced payment then?

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Lionel,

    You have read it the way I did but commentary elsewhere on the net suggests that the right to a lawyer of one’s choice is a freestanding right.

  • Lionel Hutz

    No, I didn’t really look into it. I was just curious.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Here’s an interesting point Seymour,

    From the hansard document above:

    “Of the £18·3 million savings that the new rules make, £3 million is from cuts in standard fees, and almost £15·3 million is from the abolition of VHCCs.”

    Ok so we know that the standard fees have been reduced by 25% for solicitors and 20% for Barristers. This saving is £3 million.

    This means that the standard fee total spend has reduced from between:
    - £15 million to £12 million (on the basis of 3 million being a 20% reduction); and
    - £12 million to £9 million (on the basis of the the 3 million being a 25% reduction)

    It will probably be somewhere in the middle. Lets say its been reduced from £13.5 million to £10.5 million.

    That means that the total amount paid out on Crown Court fees will have reduced from £31.8 million to £10.5million.

  • Skint Taxpayer

    I’ve read the ebb and flow of your comments and really the average joe public would have as much sympathy for self serving legal profession than estate agents. Does high fees mean good service?

    I’ve paid top dollar to take a traffic accident case and my lawyer swotted up in the space of half an hour….lost my case, knew he messed it up, he spoke to the defendants team outside the court room after a disastrous hearing, they saw the unfairness, cobbled together a plan that I should appeal and 3 days before the Appeal the other party’s legal team caved in as he predicted. A game of shame where I was the paymaster.

    As a graduate of 20 years on a management grade £40 k in wealth creating industry, I’m off to work for my 7:40 start in the private sector. I daren’t tell you when I finish work as its flauting EU rules and may employer may be brought under for it…something I can’t afford to bear think about. Also I’m proud of the balnce of payments my role brings into the economy…something some (most?) of the legal prof should think about next time they jump into the Audi/Merc or whatever.

    Must dash

    The Legal profession needs to join the real world rather than haw hawing from one Bank Holiday break away to another

  • Old Mortality

    Well said, Skint Taxpayer. people like you are the backbone of what little remains of a productive economy in this part of the world. It’s simply immoral that so many lawyers can eclipse your earnings at the expense of taxpayers. That is the strongest argument of all for financially hammering these people. The real shame is that they have got away with it for so long and they don’t even get murdered any more.

  • http://nicentreright.wordpress.com/ Seymour Major

    Lionel,

    Thank you for drawing attention to that Hansard document. I have made some observations.

    Firstly, the VHCC element of the reduction. When it was first introduced, it was expected that in Northern Ireland, the percentage of VHCC would be similar to England and Wales, i.e. 5% of cases. As it turned out, some 50% of the cases in Northern Ireland were certified as fit for a VHCC certificate. In other words, the judiciary were much more generous to their bretheren in the legal profession. That was understandable. That was back in the days when P & J was not devolved. The UK Northern Ireland office accepted the situation meekly.

    The problem was put to the NI Law Society. They saw that it would be impossible to hold on to the VHCC and agreed to let it go. They did not expect, however, that Mr. Fords department would want even more cuts.

    What has now happened with the 3m being unacceptable, the other 15.3 for VHCC reduction has also become unacceptable.

    As to the other 3 million, the department has pointed out that if they were to reduce the funding to be consistent with England and Wales, they would have made a bigger cut in the standard fee (28% instead of 20% for solicitors and 58% instead of 25% for barristers)

    I wonder if solicitors are aware that their own Law Society offered to forego the VHCC part of funding and that they are still better off than their bretheren in England and Wales. I suspect not. Watch out for blood on the carpet within the NI Law Society.

    Having now appreciated that information, I have no reason to doubt the department’s figures. I suspect that the NI Law Society does not either. I now disagree with the “industrial action” now being taken by the NI legal profession. If they carry on, they will damage their image further.

    I have a certain residual sympathy for NI solicitors in one sense. There is not as great an opportunity to make a decent living as there is in England and Wales. In the latter jurisdiction, there is obviously a much stronger economy and far more unfunded work.

    However, my advice to solicitors is that they will lose public sympathy rapidly as it becomes clearer what the argument is about. They should accept the new rules, move on and take a leap of faith in the anticipated reduction in Corporation tax. If the good times come to the NI Economy, then business for the lawyers will soon follow.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Seymour,

    Certainly the Barristers knew that the VHCCs were effectively being dropped. I realise that information does not pass as freely with solicitors but I expect that most of them know. By the way, I very seriously doubt that 50% figure. The judiciary did not grant the certification. You had to make an application to the legal services commission. The rules are here:

    http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2005/112/article/16/made

    It had to appear likely that the trial would last more than 25 days. Now that would have occurred more often here than in England. Apart from anything else, over there it had to last more than 40 days. But 50% of cases?! – I’ll believe it when I see the figures. It just doesn’t seem possible.!

    I think you miss the point. The strike is over the new rules. They could not cherry pick. They just want back to the table. They are not debating the bulk of the cuts.

    This happened because the Bar and Law Society put forward coated proposals from Goldblatt McGuigan. The NICTS and DoJ disagreed with them but never showed their own figures.

    They also moved the goalposts. The Bar and Law Society were told to make proposals to cut the budget to around £79 million. They did so. At the last minute David Ford reduced it further to £75 million and then pushed these rules in at the end of the last assembly term!

    Why was that done? He’s reaping what he sows now. The strike is not breaking. As I said at the beginning of the thread, it cannot break because the Bar is striking too.

  • Skint Taxpayer

    Seymour Major Like your last paragraph. The good times will come if we throw our efforts behind a wealth creating economy. If we create some wealth, and there are gems of industry that can expand in NI, then legal ‘leeches’ will also do well albeit the pickings may not be so rich.

    Lionel it is about money dressed up with rule ‘changes’. Get real. The Govt is proposing cuts everywhere even £2000 danger money payments for troops on already derisory levels of pay.
    I do see some breaking the strike, but if it holds a while, the general public won’t miss it. After all its not like the bins not being lifted. Legal wheels are not quick anyway as a slow gravy train can string things out to make more money…the train will just be stopped a while but this time no gravy and when it restarts a new level of realism will have come about.
    Although I slated the legal industry in general I would commend those in it that are prepared to work through this dispute. They have the real interests of those choked up in this mess at heart.

    The next thing we need to sort out is something on the private side of the business ie the strung out inefficiently handled accident/insurance claims. Insurance companies should seek arbitrators outside the courts to sort out these affairs. That means less lawyers fees, court fees and hopefully lower insurance premiums. I refer to my legal encounter experience I had posted 7:17 am today.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Lionel it is about money dressed up with rule ‘changes’. Get real

    ———–

    Obviously its about money. The point I made was that they had to agree or object to the whole thing. They can’t cherry pick. It is legislation after all.

    You may have had a bad experience in court Skint. There’s always one side annoyed after a contest.

    For what it’s worth I’m a great believer in finding alternative ways of resolving disputes. Most barristers I know try to settle for this reason. Unfortunately, if it goes to court it’s because atleast one side is bring unreasonable. Perhaps businessmen should pay privateindependent arbitrators to decide these things. It’ll be more expensive but who cares. Anyway, if it’s like most bodies who want arbitrators, the demand will be for a legally qualified arbitrator.

  • Skint Taxpayer

    Lionel

    Annoyed with who..you missed the point? I was 10 times more p****d off with my ill prepared lawyer than the defendant. And he knew it when I rounded on him after the case.

    I think individuals should be asked if they both agree to a non legal arbitrator. eg in car damage cases and the like. If they and insurers both see it as a quick and less costly avenue and they agree to abide by its ruling why not? I would certainly have preferred this route. My experience was that had I lost the Appeal I was forced to take I would have had to pay 4 times the damage claim to my vehicle (ie both my and the Defendant’s Legal fees).

    The whole point I am making is even if you pay top dollar you don’t get top dollar..and the same in my book applies to legal aid levels. Take them down Mr Ford if anything to ease the public’s tax burden.

    Its like this. Dodgy garages fabricate work to fleece the customer. Increasingly aren’t the professions at this? In my book the legal profession and the Court Service are masters either passively through inefficiency or actively through stringing out cases. Ref the Appeal I refer above, after the balls up of the first hearing my Legal team go have a 1 minute chat with the other legal team in the court lobby, they come back to me to advise me to appeal…and advise that this time I’ll win. How did the two teams know this…further they were right? The Defendant’s team capitulated 3 days before the Appeal…Its a game at the public’s expense.

    I’ve a good mind to name this crook of a lawyer (he’s now an eminent member of the profession) but he might fleece me this time from the opposing side of the court!

  • Lionel Hutz

    ST,

    Im sure you will understand that it would very hard for me to talk about your case when I know nothing about it. I’ll say that alot of the best work done by Barristers is out of court. It seems to me that you must have had good grounds for the appeal and it suggests to me that the Judge got it wrong. I’ll also say that everyone can have a bad day in court too where you just dont perform as well. It is a very difficult thing to do, it is high pressure because you have to perform well every day otherwise you end up with clients who, like yourself, where pissed off. Not many jobs are like that.

    I also think with respect to you, msot people do not understand how long it takes to get a case ready for court. Its not stringing out. In fact, as far as the criminal work goes, most of the delay is to do with the Prosecution having to get evidence from external bodies (the PSNI, FSNI etc). Also a lot of time is wasted in getting expert evidence for the defence. In my experience, whilst at times the lawyers are responsible for delay, I can honestly say that most delay is out of our hands. Its frustrating and its frustrating for us too but you can see the frustration painted in the faces of clients and theres mostly nothing you can do about it.

  • Skint Taxpayer

    Lionel,

    Look I see where you’re coming from…complex cases of course need prep time. But my case was simply a lot of car damage, no injuries yet it took over a year and plenty of solicitors letters to resolve and apart from a PC no expert witnesses. The delay in getting to court played into the defendant’s hands as the PC didn’t get his unwritten facts right and my badly prep’d lawyer couldn’t challenge him. Add to this the concoction of an Appeal outcome by both legal teams for which I would pay over half a year’s salary if it went wrong, I maintain this is an example of a sordid self serving legal profession which only masquerades as primarily serving the public.

    It wasn’t a bad day, it was a badly prepared day. Imagine if this was a surgical procedure. If things go wrong due to a surgeon’s mistake it doesn’t look good to say everyone can have a bad day. If that’s the attitude what’s the point of going to court? Maybe we should use non legal arbitrators for certain Legal Aid cases if you feel that standards in the profession can just casually drop at times.

    Going back to the Legal Aid cost issue, I think we need to get back to a society where we put people in need first..we all take a hit in the current climate and we come out together feeling better. I would hope barristers see the light eventually as the work has probably dried up in other spheres and that they adjust to the pains everyone else is going through and, with solicitors’ firms already breaking rank, this dispute will get resolved in a public spirited way rather than fleecing the taxpayer.