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

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.