Legal Aid Fees Dispute: “the Law Society takes the view that this matter should receive early and urgent priority”

As the BBC report, the President of the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Brian Speers, has called on the NI Justice Minister to make the resolution of the legal aid fees dispute  “the day one priority for the minister when the assembly is reconvened.”  The report also notes

The Northern Ireland Court Service confirmed that 36 solicitors’ firms in Northern Ireland have stopped work on 60 cases in the past three weeks.

And from the UTV report

Mr Speers added: “The Minister needs to simply reflect on advice that senior, responsible criminal lawyers were able to provide, that the Law Society was able to provide, and which unfortunately the Minister did not accept.

“Regrettably, a situation of which the Minister was warned is now occurring. This is why the Law Society feels it should be the day-one priority for the Minister when the Assembly is reconvened.”

He stressed that the Society had accepted amendments to the fees system were needed, and that it proposed abolishing the Very High Cost Case rates.

Emphasising the need for an urgent resolution to the stand-off, Mr Speers added: “We are looking at a situation where defendants accused of serious crime, where there are standards for a fair trial – proper representation, proper testing of the prosecution case – these normal expectations in a mature society are now in danger of not occurring.”

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  • DC

    It’s time for a statutory public defender office, an office licensed by the state to represent people who are charged with a crime and who desire legal representation, but who cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

    These attorneys should be on public sector contracts with strict payscales.

    It’s time to end this private-sector gravy train where the winners – those overpaid high-flying attorneys seem to take all, while other legal representatives work for relative peanuts. The fees system needs flattened out and the work needs spread out better – time to put legal services into the public sector, like health and education.

  • DC

    This would also get rid of the law society whose members pay private fees to the society itself in order to regulate themselves, the solicitors/fee payers etc.

    Nuff said!

  • Cynic2

    The Law Society’s monopoly control on entry to the profession should be ended. I also see no reason why after the cuts we should still be paying more per unit for legal aid here than we do in the rest of the UK. The reason is simple – its a restricted market.

    On Legal Aid the Commission should set the rate in the same way as in England and Wales – by open tender to law firms who want to join the panel. Anyone seeking legal aid can then go to a panel firm.

  • Skint Taxpayer

    Cynic 2

    Not being Legally ‘in tune’, I am indeed surprised that the Law Society has this monopoly. I wonder what is the criteria for access?… exam results, satifactory probation, cronyism, nepotism?
    Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the backgrounds of those who pass V those who fail entry? Maybe this is cynical and its all purely objective.

    Ref Legal Aid costs – I agree with open tender. Then once a case is awarded, the legal team clock on and off when working on Legal Aid. Then this is scrutinised over time to see which firms may be milking it. If they do show signs of an upward end of claiming they’re kicked off the panel for good or even done for fraud (with no Legal Aid protection!!)

  • Lionel Hutz

    In Northern Ireland, the first stage is to get a place in the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. This is run by Queen’s University but UU also set up one recently in Derry. They both use the same entrance exam. The exam comprises of four tests, one on criminal law, one on land law, one on civil law and a maths test. Its actually an aptitude test more than a law test (thats what the law degree is for). In the three law tests you are given a case study and you have to answer the questions on what should happen in that case study and there is minus marking (many people can end up getting 0 in some of the tests because of that). The whole test is marked out of 1,000.

    In addition, you will recieve 300 points if you get a first class honours degree, 225 for a 2.1 and 150 for a 2.2 added on to your score and a merit list is drawn up based on this composite score out of a maximum of 1,300.

    The test is the same for the Bar and Solicitors. There are about 1,000 graduates and final year law students who take the exam (the undergraduates get a conditional offer depending on their degree). each applicant chooses whether to go for the Bar or the Solicitor Profession or both, in which case they put down an order of preference.

    The top 30 Bar applicants are offered a place and the top 120 Solicitor applicants are offered a place. There is also a waiting list. Solicitor applciants must also get a training contract with a practising firm.

    IUf you get into the Bar, you do a full time 9-5 course at the Institute for a one year. During that time you must pass all of the around a dozen modular exams (on each area of practice). The course is designed to prepare you for everything you will need to know for your first 3-5 years of practice. Also then, you will have the final Bar Exam. (known as the exit exam). You must pass all of them. If you fail some of the earlier exams (before Christmas, you can repeat them once in and around the April time). If you fail one of the later ones you will ahve to defer for a year.

    The Barristers then on passing the exams get called to the Bar and have to then complete one year of pupilage with another Barrister. After the first six months, they are allowed to do work on their own but they are always under supervision of their pupilmaster.

    For Solicitors, they do a similar course in the Institute but it is spread over two years, with the rest of the time being spent in the office with the firm who take them on. They do the same exams as the Bar in some areas but some courses are solicitor only (such as conveyancing) whereas some are Bar only (advocacy classes). When the Solicitors finish the two eyars they are qualified.

    Hope that clears up the entry system