The Legal Aid Problem – it isn’t going away you know..

In this mornings paper copy of the Belfast Telegraph [sorry not on the interweb at time of writing] Deborah McAleese writes,

“A high profile solicitor [DG Bell] who broke ranks in the legal aid dispute has dramatically withdrawn his offer to work for reduced fees amid allegations of bullying in the increasingly bitter battle between lawyers and the Justice Minister. It is understood that the firms owner took the decision after being subjected to hostility in court from other solicitors”.

Hmm would have thought he would have expected a few hostilities in Court – probably not what he means though!  But this development clearly means that the Justice Minister is on the back foot again and that the legal professions ranks are holding.

To date there are 167 Crown Court cases which are unrepresented.

In another update to this saga on Friday 10th the Justice Minister was asked by David McIlveen MLA what the amount of fees paid from the Legal Services Commission to barristers in Northern Ireland was. The following were detailed:

2006/07 £11,965,192

2007/08 £9,290,325

2008/09 £11,101,224

2009/10 £15,568,813

2010/11 £7,752,523

Total £55,678,077

The fees are further split down by QC [although this is done anonymously].  It is true that some aspects of the media are sensationalising the story [you’d nearly believe that every barrister in NI was reaping in over 500k a year] of course this is clearly not the case. Some more figures this time from the BBC

In relation to crown court work (ie the criminal end of legal aid where the current dispute lies) in 2009/10 :

61% of solicitors’ firms earned less than £20,000

24% earned between £20,000 and £100,000

11% earned between £100,000 and £250,000

3% earned between £250,000 and £500,000

Only one firm (less than 1%) earned over £500,000

The one thing that is common between the Justice Minister and the Bar Council is that they do not agree on any of the figures. To be honest comparative data is hard to come by since Scotland uses a public defender system and the law is slightly different again in England and Wales. This “unfair” comparative aspect seems to be one of the main concern for the bodies representing the solicitors/barristers.

The only thing we know for definite is that the Legal Aid budget needs savings introduced, the outstanding question still is how we do it?

,

  • Lionel Hutz

    Just on that ‘hostility’. This is what happened when the solicitor took on a case under the new pay rules. I’d say embarrassed rather than
    Intimidated.

    http://www.u.tv/News/Lawyers-hadnt-read-papers-in-drugs-case/94602cce-0194-4650-a182-bbbc2ad908ea

  • Cynic2

    The Protection from Harassment Act has the solution:

    “harassing a person include alarming the person or causing the person distress”

    ” 3.—(1) A person shall not pursue a course of conduct—

    (a)which amounts to harassment of another; and

    (b)which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.

    4.—(1) A person who pursues a course of conduct in breach of Article 3 shall be guilty of an offence.”

    So if other Solicitors are doing this then they may well be committing criminal offences in the very face of the Court.

    Will PSNI investigate? Isn’t it about time that some (not all) of our grasping legal friends were made to work for a living like the rest of us. As is usual in these things, the most grasping, shiftless, inefficient and idle will be among the most vociferous in defending their “rights ” to legal; aid.

  • Crubeen

    Could anybody explain how the Prison System got into such a mess in the first place and what … ah hem … proposals for cuts have come from it?

    Could anybody explain why the Prosecution Service is vastly over-Budget and what … ah hem … proposals for cuts have come from it?

  • Crubeen

    Could anybody then explain why the Criminal Legal Aid system got into a morass of over-spending in the first place and the recipients of that largesse then showed the various civil servants who had presided over the mess how to clean it up without aggravation?

    Can anybody explain why the birdbrains in the DoJ (prop. D Forde Esq) instead of welcoming their saviours then decided to stick the arm in for a bit more?

    Could anybody explain the difference between hostility and harrassment to Cynic?

  • Banjaxed

    David Ford is playing dirty politics in this matter. He releases top headline figures to slant the story his way and attempt to justify his slash and burn approach. Senior QCs, at the top of their game, command very high fees whether from the public sector or not. The majority do not. And the ordinary barrister, even after around 5 years practice, would be very lucky to earn over £30K.

    And was it a mere coincidence that one of the ‘strike-breaking’ solicitors was rumoured to be the Ford’s family solicitor?

    The travesty and tragi-comedy enacted in Newry demonstrates exactly the folly of Ford’s handling of this issue. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read about it – a prosecuting counsel bringing to the judge’s attention the negligence and incompetence of the defendant’s ‘bussed-in’ representatives and the judge handing his own papers to the defending barrister?? You’d be hard put to make it up! And just as well Gilbert & Sullivan weren’t around to update ‘Trial by Jury’ – they would have made a killing!

  • Framer

    The new labour aristocracy, be they barristers or binmen will fight to the death to protect their privileged position. Wouldn’t you?

    They have it every which way from birth to death, through salaries, fees, grants, jobs, education and finally gold-plated pensions.

    It took 150 years to get the landed aristocracy out of power. I venture it will take a similar amount of time to do the same with its replacement, and in Northern Ireland perhaps two centuries.

    Fordie will not live that long.

    The first step is to know it exists. Few have spotted that due to self-oppression and false consciousness (or self-interest). But it will eventually become the new political divide.

  • Sadly not a NI-exclusive matter.

    David Ford is merely the monkey: organ-grinding is done ielsewhere (founder: J.Straw; prop: K.Clarke; reg.office 102 Petty France, SW1H 9AJ).

    Please direct all complaints accordingly.

  • Vincent Hannah

    That case is a complete deflection away from the issue at hand – the need to agree on a budget. To focus on it any further on it is also disrespectful to a people involved and unbecoming of anyone who continues to raise it on a public forum. That it was published in the first place by the site in question was unfair, i believe.

    Whatever about the way in which DF came to his new figure, it is up to the appropriate representatives of the legal profession to sort it out with him. The best you can do is push for a review as early as possible. We all have to cut our cloth at this time and it is up to the legal profession – and the responsibility of those representing the profession – to do their best for their colleagues and for the clients they represent. This nonsense is not doing either group any good.

    The longer this story keeps rearing its ugly head in the way it has, the more damage is being done to the public image of the legal profession. If members of the profession are going to continue to speak about this, i wish to god they would start making sense, speak with one clear voice and tell the people they are addressing how this will affect them and why this should interest them. Otherwise they should save it for their discussions with the DoJ and stop sending us all to sleep!

  • Lionel Hutz

    18 Solicitor Firms are on this list. I have seen it and none of them would be described as a criminal practice. In fact, I checked them up against the Top 100 legal aid payments list, and none of them are on it.

    These are commercial firms who need the money. I have a lot of sympathy for them but they will not know the extent of the work involved in preparing a crown court case.

    And this list will be given to defendants. Presumably they will be told that they have to contact one of them?????

  • Turgon

    Lionel Hutz,

    Forgive the probably utterly illerate questions of a non lawyer.

    Wssentially then is Ford arranging for other firms with no experience of criminal work to represent people and they will be the only ones a person ccan get via legal aid?

    If so that is scandalous: it would be liking refusing to pay secondary school teachers and instead getting unemployed primary teachers to teach A levels or asking GPs to do heart surgery.

    Are those semi fair analogies?

  • Lionel Hutz

    If so that is scandalous: it would be liking refusing to pay secondary school teachers and instead getting unemployed primary teachers to teach A levels or asking GPs to do heart surgery
    ————————————————

    Its not a million miles away. Perhaps asking a orthapadic surgeon to do heart surgery would be more apt. Its not their speciality and thay dont have the experience.

    I dont know all of the firms. Im looking up their websites. Some dont have websites. Of those that do, only two so far have said they even do criminal law and it was way down their list of services. One has described itself as a niche commercial legal practice. Another says that it is well regarded in the commercial and property fields.

    It is pretty scandalous in my view.

    My understanding is that defendants without a solicitor are going to be given this list and they’ll have to pick one, or do it themselves.

  • Turgon

    Lionel Hutz,
    So if a defendant is convicted could a grounds for appeal be the fact that his / her solicitor did not prepare the case properly / barrister had no experience of that sort of work and hence the trial was unfair?

  • Lionel Hutz

    That would be very difficult.

    You would have to show that there some new evidence that the solicitor/barrister didn’t bring to the court’s attention?

    Its not enough to say, “my lawyer was rubbish”. There would have to be some mistake in law or some new evidence.

    T

  • Lionel Hutz

    This is really wuite tragic. About 4 of the 18 dont have websites. Theres nothing wrong with that though.

    Of the 14 or so that have websites, i counted 3 that said that they do criminal law. Although in each case it was way down the list of priorities.

    We have family law solicitors who say they specialise in children order cases. Mostly, these firms are commercial firms who maybe are having it a bit tough at the moment. A couple of property specialists.

    One of these firms showed a picture of the office (and oh dear me) and it highlight on its website that it has “FREE PARKING”.

    Tragic

  • What exactly is going to happen to those without representation? Will their trials go ahead regardless?

  • Lionel Hutz

    I have no idea whats going to happen. I’m not sure if this has ever happened before

    It has been suggested that they will have to defend themselves. I’ve also heard it said that some prosecutions will have to be dropped.

    The two opposite approaches.

    I have no idea really. It’ll be interesting

  • vanhelsing

    Joe,

    As far as I’m aware and chatting to a friend who is a barrister – no they won’t. That is the key aspect of the stand off – the list will get longer and longer.

    Lionel really is the expert here and deals with Turgons very good question neatly. It really isn’t enough to say ‘my representation was crap or incompetent’ – there needs to be a mistake [perhaps by the judge] or new evidence come to light to suceed in an appeal. Mistakes by solicitors / barristers don’t count:)

    This is the dangerous / precarious route that we are embarking down…

  • To this equally legal ignoramus, those seem very literate questions, Turgon-the-Wise.

    Dig further and one finds other matters. For example the CPS now sends a single in-house advocate into English courts, to prosecute cases where there many be two or multiple defendants, each defended by a silk and a junior. At less-serious trials that would be farcical, even scandalous. In truly big ones, it is an offence to sanity.

    Justice deferred is injustice enough. Justice cobbled up is injustice indeed.

    Whatever the monetary cost of a trial, if any individual’s liberty — for an extended period — is under threat, the job needs to be done properly. Admittedly, a major fraud trial costs £40m+ (which is why we don’t get too many, perhaps not enough).

    Whereas the public purse is rifled for matters, however serious, which do not involve individual liberty.

    For the record, Heathrow Terminal Five Inquiry cost £80m. The Chilcot Inquiry cost £2¼m (with no paid barristers involved— ACL Blair donated his services free of public charge). The Princess Di inquest £12.5m+. We still await any “broad” accounting of the Tomlinson Inquest. Did we need (how many was it? four or more) separate forensic episodes into the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes, at a still undisclosed total cost? In the spirit of openness, does anyone have any information about expensive inquiries — say around £400m — in Northern Ireland (he said sweetly)?

    I have here a Hansard (Lords) item in which Lord Darling was whingeing about the cost of courts and inquests — dated 19 May 1925.

  • Here in Canada the accused have the right to a trial in a reasonable amount of time (reasonable isn’t defined). Even serious charges have been dismissed by the Judge assigned to the case if he/she is convinced that it has taken too long to bing the case by the prosecution. Most recently very serious charges against a Montreal Hell’s Angels gang were dismissed.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Its the same here Joe. You have a right to speedy trial.

    What Van Helsing is saying is correct. The list will continue to pile up but there will have to be a cut off point when the Judiciary has to make a decision – run it without legal representation and risk an unfair trial or dismiss the case. The certainly cannot keep defendants on remand or even on bail indefinately. Monica McWilliams would have a stroke!

    MR, to the best of my knowledge, of the £200 million was spent on Saville, with obout £60 million going to the various legal representatives.

    Today, we have an independent report into legal aid in England saying that cuts are a false economy.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/uk/cutting-legal-aid-a-false-economy-16011513.html

  • Turgon

    It seems to me (as a non lawyer) that this is a scandal but in a way Ford is being very clever.

    Disliking lawyers is a running joke as are claims about their high pay. Hence, bashing supposedly excess fees paid to lawyers is easy, especially when the large amounts earned by a very, very small number of top QCs is mentioned.

    However, they (criminal lawyers) do fulfill a vital function regarding defending people. Furthermore QCs being self employed have to pay all their expenses so the headline figure is somewhat misleading: their secretaries etc. will presumably be paid from their fees? Also only a few get the huge fees and probably quite late in their careers.

    A further issue is that most of the public have little time for criminals or the accused and think too many get off (this is probably wrong but is a common perception). Hence, saying that criminals might not get as good a defence is not going to ellicit that much public sympathy.

    Ford may win this though I hope (not merely for political reasons) that he does not. That he (Ford) is prepared to have utterly unsuitable firms as defence solicitors is extremely poor for justice.

    This is merely the latest example of a failure by Ford. He is being protected by the unpopularity of lawyers in this case and in general by the fact that he has sold his soul so much to the DUP and SF that they allow him to remain in post fairly unmolested despite his utter incompetence.

  • Lionel Hutz

    One aspect fo this that I just do not understand is why the Minister ahs dug such a trench for himself.

    He had just abotu everything he wanted. No-one in the court service actually believed that they would be able to achieve a budget of £79 million in three years. (the target before december when Ford slashed another £4 million). The the Bar and Law Society offered the solution. Abolish the VHCC. That amounted to over £15 million of cuts. In England and Wales the VHCC still exists. It is given in about 5% of cases and accounts for a large proportion of the budget.

    Here, they said to get rid of it. The logic was that if you need cuts, then concentrate them on the areas that can absorb them better. The most senior and high earning barristers and solicitors take the hit for sake of the professions. It means that junior barristers can still work in the Criminal Legal aid sector, so you dont have this situation in England where the young Bar is dying and the profile of the average Barrister in criminal practice is aging by the year. For solicitors, it meant that they would know that even if the profit margins were hit, they would stilll atleast make a profit from every case they do (not an unreasonable request) so you dont have a situation in England where firms have to subsidise criminal practice with commercial practice with the net effect that they lose alot of the specialist knowledge or worse still that they are forced to give up legal aid practice in certain mostly urban areas because the overheads are too high. We dont want legal aid wastelands, as they call them in England.

    The flat rate salami slice/haircut that the Minister is proposing means that certain work becomes economically unviable. Its pretty obvious that this would be the case.

    I dont get the Minister. In the end he had proposals that were within budget. He then changed the budget. The professions then got together to get within the reduced budget and at worst the NICTS said they were £600K out (and that was only because the NICTS decided not to make the £2.5 million efficiencies they promised, instead opting for £1.5 million, which is basically freezing their budget (look at the draft budget for Justice))

    So he had it within budget, “at or abouts” as his advisors said.

    He had a transparent and accountable system.

    He had a changeover that was easy to manage for the LSC meaning they would save money. He had originally proposed the English Graduated Fee Scheme would have involved expense in the training and so on for the changover. But no cost with professions’ proposals.

    He had a system that guranteed that lawyers would be able to offer the services all round N.I. without going out business. So Access to Jsutice was preserved.

    And he had the legal professions on board. The Crown Court fees would have been cut just shy of 50% and the professions were going to work with it! What other sector in this god-forsaken region would do that? and this could be running today!

    Instead, the MInister decided to get a wee election boost. Pushing through his own rules on the very last day of the mandate so that he could say in his PEBs “I cut legal aid”. And he’s having this PR campaign against the “fat cat” lawyers, feeding an ever complaint media these over-exaggerated headlines. He has made it seem that to agree to the professions proposals would be to climb-down and humiliate himself. Even though he woudl achieved getting legal aid in budget within 15 months of office. A very commendable achievement that would ahve been! Instead he chooses a crisis

  • Lionel Hutz

    However, they (criminal lawyers) do fulfill a vital function regarding defending people. Furthermore QCs being self employed have to pay all their expenses so the headline figure is somewhat misleading: their secretaries etc. will presumably be paid from their fees? Also only a few get the huge fees and probably quite late in their careers.
    ————————————

    All that is true. I think its a bit excessive but i wont lie. The thought that if I worked hard for the 25 years 30 years and became one of the ten best Barristers in N.I. i could earned £500,000 is a motivator. It would be a bit rubbish if you spent 5 years training, racking up £40K in debt as I have, then a further 5 years before you start to make a living only to find that the very very best you could do is have an Audi A4 maybe parked on your driveway. If that was the height of it.

    The Top Barristers do have secretaries and overheads and usually paying for their own office. Also over 15% of that money is going straight back to the tax-payer in VAT. Its turnover! not a wage!

  • Fair Deal

    The members of a ‘trade union’ deals with a ‘scab’ 1960’s style. Why should it be considered more acceptable because it is the middle and upper classes involved?

  • Lionel Hutz

    Fair deal,

    Are you that naive?

    The BelTel cant get a comment from the solicitor, but suddenly has a hotline to his “freinds” saying he is being intimidated and “he is shell shocked” by the hostility. And is able to see an email with the word “scab” used. Meanwhile the Department of Justice has a handy prepared commentary talking about intimidation.

    Come on, this is pure politics! Its a PR campaign

  • Cynic2

    Defendants do need a defence …and the law offers them one free of charge. The problem is that our NI layers want paid 20% -30%more for the same work as colleagues in E&W?

    Why? Because there are just too many of them, they are too small and inefficient and have been used to being that way. It is comfortable. Now they have to cut and that’s painful for them – but for years it has been painful for everyone else paying over the odds for them

  • Lionel Hutz

    http://www.u.tv/News/New-solicitor-pay-rate-list-released/711d456b-9fa4-407f-a465-fd7b68974874

    The list of firms willing to work under the new rates can be obtained in court and is available to defendants facing charges.

    But one experienced criminal solicitor in Belfast who has come off record in cases was critical of those on it.

    He claimed: “Few of them have any real, extensive criminal experience. It’s a farce.”

    A Department of Justice spokesman said: “Copies of the list of firms willing to undertake criminal legal aid work is available to all defendants seeking legal representation from court offices.

    “Copies of the list have also been provided to the Prison Service for clients on remand without legal representation.”

  • Lionel Hutz

    Others in Banbridge, Ballycastle, Newtownabbey, Enniskillen, Dungannon, Newry, Coleraine and Holywood have indicated they will work under the new rules introduced by Justice Minister David Ford.
    —————————————————-

    So none in Derry, Omagh, Strabane, Craigavon, Armagh, Lisburn, Antrim, and so many other court towns. it is a bit farcical alright

  • Fair Deal

    “naive”

    ROFLMAO. It is naive to think that we are somehow dealing with a bunch of choirboys just because they we are dealing with a profession. The viciousness with which ‘professional bodies’ (aka trade union) operate makes the TUC seem like wimps.

  • Banjaxed

    Fair Deal
    The guy in question made an absolute b*lls of the case in Newry as he is NOT a criminal lawyer. Intimidation isn’t in the picture. He said he wanted the trial to run despite doing any homework whatever. He hadn’t even read the papers, for God’s sake! When discovered, the judge pulled the plug on the proceedings, not only to prevent a mis-trial but also to forestall any further (and more expensive) costs in the likely event of an appeal.
    For ‘intimidation’ read ’embarrassment’ at his ill-preparedness on being found out.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Here’s the report:

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/northern-ireland/bullying-claims-as-legal-row-gets-nasty-16011137.html

    “Antrim-based practice DG Bell Solicitors – who on Thursday became the first firm to appear in court on behalf of a crime suspect affected by the dispute – has now removed its name from the list of legal firms willing to work for the reduced fees.”

    ……

    “The withdrawal from new Crown Court cases by DG Bell Solicitors, who just two weeks ago publicly declared a willingness to work for the new pay rates, will come as a blow to David Ford who has been attempting to gather a group of solicitors and barristers prepared to act for unrepresented defendants. Although Mr Bell said he did not want to comment about his decision a friend said that he had been left “shell shocked” by the level of hostile opposition from colleagues.

    “He knew there would be opposition but did not expect it to be so hostile. There was a nasty whispering campaign from the start to try and discredit him. It also was pretty nasty in court on Thursday for the solicitor and counsel who appeared from the firm. The intense scrutiny became too much. It is going to be very difficult for any practitioner to accept work in such a hostile climate,” the friend said.”

    And what happened on the “thursday”????

    http://www.u.tv/News/Lawyers-hadnt-read-papers-in-drugs-case/94602cce-0194-4650-a182-bbbc2ad908ea

    That’s why I’m just a little bit cynical!

  • Fair Deal

    Banjaxed

    Good for the judge (and the prosecuting lawyer) but it doesn’t change the nature of the fight that is going on and it isn’t going to be pretty.

  • Crubeen

    Lionel,

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this but doesn’t a defendant have a right to legal representation of his choice and need not take a lawyer from wee Davy’s list if he would prefer to get somebody else?

  • Hopping The Border

    Lionel you are on the money:

    If a newly qualified doctor was to agree to do open heart surgery on you for a much cheaper rate than a qualified surgeon, provided he had read a book on the subject from cover to cover on heart surgery and knew every single thing in the book, would you trust him to do it?

    Specialists exist in every field for a reason.

  • okazo

    I don’t think anyone is disputing the existence of expertise, only the suitable response to grasping demands for excessive remuneration. DF has my unequivocal support in addition to what I suspect amounts to a substantial silent majority.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Correct me if I’m wrong on this but doesn’t a defendant have a right to legal representation of his choice and need not take a lawyer from wee Davy’s list if he would prefer to get somebody else?

    ———————————

    Crubeen,

    Here’s a copy of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights:

    Right to a fair trial

    1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgment shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

    2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

    3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
    (a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and indetail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
    (b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
    (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;
    (d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of wit-nesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
    (e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

    I would read that as saying that if they can pay, they have a right to choose. However, it doesn’t explicitly say if the citizen cant afford it that the state must provide free legal advice of their choosing. The state must just provide legal advice. But then Seymour said one day that he had seen case-law that suggested you should have a right to choose. I’m not sure myself.

    But I dont think that choosing your legal representative is a human rights issue- its a public policy issue. Is it going to be public policy that if you can afford it, you will get a good service and if you are poor you will not. Essentially, the Minister has to decide whether he wants a two-tier criminal justice system

  • Ambulance Catcher

    As a specialist in my field of law, I urge caution to both lawyers and clients in the present circumstances. The non specialist lawyer armed with a double edged sword of justice can only do harm to both his client and his profession. Meanwhile the client suffers an immediate imbalance in the scales of justice as evidenced in Newry last week. No client should be offered an inferior service when seeking representation in any legal matter. Furthermore it is highly irresponsible and irregular for any Government Agency to promote the use of any law firm or indeed any other business to a member of the public.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I just want to raise another couple of points on legal aid if I can. In particular as the OP raises country comparisons, i would point out the following:

    According to the Public Accounts Committee, in England and Wales:

    “The Legal Services Commission—a Non-Departmental Public Body of the Ministry of Justice—spends £2.1 billion a year on buying civil and criminal legal aid, mainly from solicitors and barristers, and a further £125 million on administration”

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmpubacc/322/322.pdf

    In fact, since that report, it is estimated to have risen to £2.2 billion. See the Guardian Report linked below:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/law/2011/jun/14/legal-aid-cuts-false-economy

    (If anyone has the exact figure, please let me know).

    Say its between the two figures (£2.1bn and £2.2 bn). There are about 54.8 million people living in England and Wales. I have a per capita spend of between £38.25 and £40.08. I would be happy therefore to go with JIm Fitzpatrick’s figure (Linked in this article) of £39.50.

    In Northern Ireland, we are reducing the budget to £75 million. We have approximately 1.79 million people in Northern Ireland. That would mean that that David Ford’s proposals would reduce our bill to £41.67 per capita.

    So he’s right, legal aid will still be more expensive in Northern Ireland than Engalnd and Wales. Except there is a point that everyone has missed. The Northern Ireland budget includes the administration costs. For example, see this briefing given to the Justice Committee:

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/justice/2007mandate/research/legal_aid_sup_briefing.pdf

    “there has been an upward drift in the administrative costs of legal aid. We touched on that in an earlier exchange, and we want those costs to come down because they have to come out the legal aid budget. The budget of £79 million for 2013 not only has to cover fees for legal aid cases but the running costs of the type of administration that we have at that point. If, in 2013, running the Legal Services Commission were to cost £7 million a year, it is self-evident that only £72 million would be left for paying for people to get access to justice.”

    In another section: “In 2009/10 the Commission’s running costs were £7.4m”

    When we talk about a £75 million budget, we have to remember than “only” £68 million of that is going on legal aid.

    That is £37.70 per capita. Our legal aid will cost less than England and Wales.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Also in that supplementary briefing is a comparison with the Republic of Ireland:

    Our Legal Aid is 55 Euros per head to the Republics 15 Euro a head. Thats a shocking difference. But it has nothing to do with the rate. Its to do with eligibility. In ROI, they granted legal aid in 120 cases per 10,000 people whereas we granted legal aid to 445 cases per 10,000 people.

    In fact, our cost per case (the best comparitor for the rate paid to lawyers) is actually the same as in ROI (actually £8 cheaper per case).

    Whilst our Legal Aid budget is higher than ROI, the rate isn’t higher.

    So when we describe our Legal Aid budget as one of the most generous in the world, it is generous to the people, not to the lawyers (in fact, it will have the effect of limiting mroe high earning private work).

  • Lionel Hutz

    On the administration cost points, I add this from Hansard:

    http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/record/committees2010/Justice/110224_RemunerationforDefenceCounsel.htm

    “Mr Crawford:
    The current estimate of what can be made in administrative savings in 2013-14 is £1·5 million. I think we originally submitted a figure of £2·5 million in an earlier paper. That was inaccurate for that year. The civil legal aid savings will make up the difference. If £4 million savings are required, civil legal aid will make up the difference. We have already advertised to our colleagues in finance, and through them to the Department generally, that we have some doubts about the ability to make the civil legal aid savings in that timescale.

    Mr McDevitt:
    What efficiency is £1·5 million?

    Mr Crawford:
    It is 5% year on year.

    Mr McDevitt:
    That is not very challenging really, is it?

    Mr Crawford:
    It is the same as is being applied to the Department.

    Mr McDevitt:
    Your Department is getting a light touch here. Everyone else is being hit twice as hard as you are; you are getting off with 5%. The Bar Counsel and the Law Society are coming to you and asking whether you can do better than 5%, and you are saying that that you would rather have your easy ride, and those guys can pay for your efficiencies. That is the extent of the £600,000 that you are talking about. You want them to subsidise your efficiency, or your lack of it.

    Mr Crawford:
    I do not think that is a fair comment, exactly, because it is the same as —

    Mr McDevitt:
    How is it not a fair comment? You are getting away with a 5% efficiency —

    Mr Crawford:
    Five per cent year on year is a 15% cut in 2013-14 and a 20% cut in 2014-15.”

    That would suggest that administrative savings will be made – if £1.5 million is 15% over the three years , then that suggests admin costs remaining are £8.5 million but certainly no less that £6 million.

    So the actual legal aid budget will be between £66.5 million and £69 million. Its less than England and Wales

  • Crubeen

    Lionel,

    ” (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;”

    I would redraft that to: –

    (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 *of his own choosing*, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require

    If you read it as I have redrafted it (in essence, simply inserted what has been left out) then the *it* becomes “legal assistance of his own choosing.”

    If a defendant declines to choose (and I hope this is read in the right quarters) from wee Davy’s list and would thereby be unrepresented (though he wishes to be represented) and a Judge, nonetheless, proceeds to arraignment and trial, do you, like me, feel a Judicial Review coming on?

    “I would read that as saying that if they can pay, they have a right to choose. However, it doesn’t explicitly say if the citizen cant afford it that the state must provide free legal advice of their choosing. The state must just provide legal advice.”

    That’s a possible interpretation … no question of that … but on a matter as serious as deprivation of liberty, is not a right to have representation of one’s own choosing important enough to be clarified in the Courts?

    And if a JR was applied for it could go all the way to the European Court with what implications for delivery of a speedy trial. If defendants were convicted on being forced to choose from Davy’s list and the European Court decided it was representation of one’s own choosing, what would the knock on effects be? And if the Court at first instance decided a defendant was entitled to representation of one’s own choosing, Davy would have to appeal it or face the prospect of having to grovel? Either way, I think it’s a win win situation for alll … apart from wee Davy but as he’s a total ballax, who cares!

    “But then Seymour said one day that he had seen case-law that suggested you should have a right to choose. I’m not sure myself.”

    Come in Seymour … any chance of a citation!!!!

  • Lionel Hutz

    Crubeen,

    I’ll have to do a little research on that point. I’m genuinly not sure. I’ll get back to you.

    But even from a policy point of view, I can’t see how any government Minister could stand over a situation where defendants were left with such limited choices. But then the Minister favours a PDO scheme, I think we can all see that. And the fact of the matter is that the public don’t care if defendants suffer. They are guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the public.

    It won’t be poorly run trials that will turn public opinion, it’ll prosecutions dropped because of delay that sparks outrage.

    Remember:

    “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law”

    That’s when things get really ugly.

    Anyway, I think the Minister is cracking. His department is make half a dozen press releases on this a day on this issue. He must be getting desperate.

    You see one of the things is that if a solicitor is not terribly experienced in a particular area, they might be able to get by if they had an experienced Barrister on board to direct them. It would be far from ideal but just about possible. Problem is that no Barristers are going to do this work. They are behind the law society on this 100%! so unless DF can fly in some English Barristers, the system will grind to a halt.

    The light at the end of the tunnel is the summer recess when Crown Courts don’t run trials. That might give all sides time to cool down and reach a compromise.

  • Reader

    Lionel Hutz: It would be a bit rubbish if you spent 5 years training, racking up £40K in debt as I have, then a further 5 years before you start to make a living only to find that the very very best you could do is have an Audi A4 maybe parked on your driveway. If that was the height of it.
    This is your chance. Make your move.

  • Crubeen

    Lionel,

    “It won’t be poorly run trials that will turn public opinion, it’ll prosecutions dropped because of delay that sparks outrage”

    Correct and that ought to be your immediate objective – to collapse the system and show just how inept and incompetent the DoJ is.

    “The light at the end of the tunnel is the summer recess when Crown Courts don’t run trials. That might give all sides time to cool down and reach a compromise”

    The longer that this runs the more the advantage turns to the legal profession – the prospect of crims on the street or Davy’s List being pounded through a Court will have the Minister tearing his hair out. I think it is ridiculous that a defendant is handed a list of less than 20 firms, who have little experience in criminal work and told to take his choice and that’s it! And if the public doesn’t see that then appropriate measures have to be taken to increase its understanding.

    Furthermore who were the birdbrains who allowed the Legal Aid system to get out of control and why have they not been given up for slaughter? Some proper propaganda about the inabilities of the DoJ to cope would present an holistic approach to the problems!!

    But, like I said, you’re dealing with a Social Worker where a lack of insight, foresight or nearsight (or even balls) is no barrier to pontification.

  • Crubeen

    Reader,

    “”Lionel Hutz: It would be a bit rubbish if you spent 5 years training, racking up £40K in debt as I have, then a further 5 years before you start to make a living only to find that the very very best you could do is have an Audi A4 maybe parked on your driveway. If that was the height of it.”

    This is your chance. Make your move.””

    Never mind Lionel … where do you park your Roller (or the Beamer) and I’ll make the move.

    🙂

  • vanhelsing

    @Lionel “The light at the end of the tunnel is the summer recess when Crown Courts don’t run trials. That might give all sides time to cool down and reach a compromise”

    Could you honestly see David Ford climbing down? Humiliation beyound words 🙂 He might use the recess to try and put in place enough resources [from the mainland] to break the ‘strike’ in September?

    Other possibility is a fudged compromise – not sure I see how that would work out though..

  • Crubeen

    Van,

    The practical difficulties in shipping in lawyers are many and I have touched on them elsewhere. For starters to be called to the Bar here requires the co-operation .. of the Bar here.

    Secondly, there are many differences, both substantive and procedural, between the jurisdiction here and that of England and Wales … never mind Scotland. Any lawyer coming here would have to acclimatise him/herself and I would doubt there would be any assistance rendered by the Bar or the Law Society. Why should they aid blackleg labour or strikebreakers?

    I don’t see wee Davy climbing down … if the lawyers co-operate and persist he’ll be thrown down and, with a bit of luck and a push and shove, a few of his officials deserve to go with him.

  • Lionel Hutz

    I’m also not sure how this could work out. I suspect thats the big problem for the Law Society and Bar Council. They are right but, at the end of the day, David Ford is the minister and has the support of DUP and Sinn Fein, and on this occasion the UUP. Its only the SDLP who lived up to their reputation as the schoolteachers, doctors and lawyers party. David Ford has put this into law. Its goign to be very difficult.

    It seems to me that we will just end up with a rubbish and cheap criminal justice system. That would suit the politicians just fine i suspect. It makes it harder for ordinary people to challenge them

  • Crubeen

    Lionel,

    With due respect, my main man, you’re sounding a bit down in the dumps. This is Slugger O’Toole not Wimpy Dell – I have faced this Minister down, up close and personal, in days of yore and, trust me, he does not have the righteous stuff from which the mighty are formed.

    He may have passed this into law but nobody’s prepared to work for it so it’s dead in the water. The onus is now on him to ensure that defendants get their lawful rights. Let me put a scenario to you: –

    X has been charged with an offence for which the maximum penalty is life. His previous solicitors have gone off the record. He refuses to instruct solicitors from wee Davy’s list on the grounds that they lack the requisite skills to adequately defend him. He has spoken to one of them who proposes to instruct a barrister straight out of pupillage … as he’s the only barrister prepared to work on the case. He’s up before the judge … unrepresented. The judge wants to set a date for trial. Can the judge order him to instruct a solicitor from wee Davy’s list?

    The judge orders him to instruct one of these solicitors and sets a trial date.Has the defendant not got the right to judicial review (before a divisional court) on the grounds that he is denied representation of *his* choosing? Unless you can state definitively that the defendant hasn’t got the right to representation of his choosing I think there is an arguable case, at least, for judicial review.

    There is one barrister (who won’t speak to me) that I would put that to … I don’t think House Rules would allow of my naming him … unless they could be doctored