Earlier this week the BBC reported
On Wednesday, defence solicitors signalled they will not be there to represent clients facing charges up to murder when they pass to the crown court.
With barristers depending on these lawyers for their instructions, it means any legal representation is highly unlikely unless a solution is reached.
And quoted a statement from the Bar Council
In a statement, the Bar Council said: “The Bar acknowledges the well founded concerns of solicitors that these rules will give rise to a two-tier system of justice.
“The introduction of today’s rules will have a marked effect on the quality of representation provided to the public in the most serious trials in the crown court.”
At issue are new fees for legally aided work in the Crown Court.
Under rules set out last month by Justice Minister David Ford, enhanced rates paid out in ‘Very High Cost Cases’ are to end. [added link]
Fees to solicitors in standard cases are to be reduced by 25% under changes in the Legal Aid for Crown Court Proceedings Rules.
Barristers rates will also drop by 20% as part of the changes.
The justice minister said he hoped the legal profession would accept the changes.
“When you ask as to whether people will withdraw, I certainly hope that lawyers will not withdraw, and as I understand it, on Wednesday, there was one case in which the solicitor withdrew.
“There were several cases which went on in other parts of NI, in which the solicitor stayed on record, to use the jargon, and Crown Court legal aid has been granted, so I think there is no indication that there is a widespread withdrawal from this type of work at this stage.”
Yesterday, in Londonderry Crown Court, a defendant appeared without representation after his lawyer stopped working on the case.
Pearse MacDermott from the Solicitor’s Criminal Bar Association said the case was one of a number of actions taking place.
“Solicitors feel that they cannot properly represent their clients on the fees being offered to them by the Justice Minister and by the court service in relation to the new crown court scheme,” he said.
“The basis of the action is that solictors will not be appearing in the Crown Court across the North in any jurisdiction.
“We believe that clients should have representation but because of the way the Minister has dealt with this we have to withdraw our services.”
Adds Some additional quotes from a Belfast Telegraph report
President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Brian Speers, said solicitors were urged by the organisation last month not to undertake work if the “proposed level of remuneration is insufficient to enable him or her to conduct the work to the proper standard”.
A spokesperson for the Bar Council last night said the cuts will cause “irreparable damage to the criminal justice system”.
The spokesperson added: “The Bar warned against the implications of making cuts beyond the allocated budget for criminal legal aid, as had been agreed between Gordon Brown and the Northern Ireland Executive at Hillsborough.
“The Bar acknowledges the well founded concerns of solicitors that these rules will give rise to a two tier system of justice.
“The introduction of today’s rules will have a marked effect on the quality of representation provided to the public in the most serious trials in the Crown Court.”