Almost 400 people left without lawyers due to NI barrister strike
Almost 400 people in Northern Ireland’s courts have been left without legal representation due to an ongoing protest against legal aid cuts.
A total of 323 cases involving 376 defendants have been held up because Northern Ireland barristers and some solicitors are continuing to refuse to take on new criminal cases as a result of dramatic pay cuts.
According to the Bar Council of Northern Ireland, the latest proposals represent cuts of almost 50 per cent from levels previously set in 2005.
However, Justice Minister David Ford has said it is not sustainable for Northern Ireland to continue to boast the highest level of legal aid pay in the UK.
A judicial review on the new legal aid rules began yesterday in Belfast’s High Court.
The Bar Council and the Law Society of Northern Ireland are jointly challenging the Department of Justice on the recently introduced rules which provide for legal representation in serious criminal trials.
Speaking ahead of the case, Bar Council chairman Gerry McAlinden QC said: “The costs of ineffective criminal defence are significant. The conviction of an innocent person represents a tragedy for everyone. The risk of miscarriages of justice is more apparent now than ever before due to legal aid cuts.”
He added: “This action is not taken lightly by our profession; it is our responsibility to uphold access to justice in the best interest of the public and preserve legal aid as an important social welfare provision for the most vulnerable.
“Legal representation cannot be repeatedly economised on while maintaining high standards for vulnerable clients.”