Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Flying in lawyers 'not credible'

The Bar Council for Northern Ireland played down the prospect of lawyers being flown in due to strikes

Flying in lawyers to replace striking counterparts in Northern Ireland could cost more money, the organisation which represents barristers said.

Justice Minister David Ford wants to cut the legal aid budget which pays solicitors and barristers up to £100 million over three years. Some solicitors have withdrawn their services in protest.

Adrian Colton QC, chairman of the Bar Council for Northern Ireland, challenged figures from the Court Service, claiming cases here are more expensive than in England and Wales.

The suggestion of flying in solicitors and barristers from England is simply not financially credible when they can actually earn more in their own jurisdiction, he said.

Mr Colton claimed that in England and Wales trainee barristers with little or no experience are sent out to represent defendants in serious criminal cases. They frequently receive their papers on the morning of the hearing and are not attended by the instructing solicitor, the senior lawyer added.

"Do we want the England and Wales experience here or do we want their junior barristers sent to Northern Ireland on budget airlines to prop up our justice system?" he asked.

Pearse McDermott from the Solicitors Criminal Bar Association has said proper representation is impossible at the proposed new rates of pay.

Mr Ford has said the current system is unaffordable and that the new rates will still be higher than those in England and Wales. However, Mr McDermott said that argument was weak because the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster had criticised the lack of funding for the courts services there.

The minister's position is backed by the Stormont committee which scrutinises his department. More than 150 criminal cases are stalled and more than 200 defendants are without representation.

Negotiations between the Department of Justice and the Law Society - which represents Northern Ireland's solicitors - have failed to resolve the dispute. The Department has written to all legal firms in Northern Ireland asking if they would be prepared to work under the new terms.

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