Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 23 October 2014

Lawyers' fees 'should be limited'

Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin said lawyers' fees should be limited

Lawyers' fees should be limited and some could work for free, the Northern Ireland Attorney General has said.

People of modest means should not be required to pay the bills of the wealthy even if they lose, provided the action is not trivial, John Larkin QC added.

But the Government's chief legal advisor told a human rights conference in Belfast they had to question whether the public should be asked to pay for a busy lawyer per hour and if it could be calculated differently.

"What is needed is reform of the costs regime to limit the amounts that can be recovered and to provide that people of modest means won't be required to pay the bills of the wealthy," he said.

Mr Larkin added: "There is a greater role for senior lawyers who have benefited from a funding system that has been historically very generous to offer pro-bono services."

Legal aid is the system where the Government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford to pay.

Justice minister David Ford said on Monday that a preliminary report should be available by February to help ensure the right to a fair trial while making savings. He called for a reduction in the legal aid budget.

Last year, legal aid cost around £90 million. Barristers and solicitors have insisted they are not paid too much.

Mr Larkin also warned the conference organised by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission that human rights in Northern Ireland were in danger of being trivialised by misuse.

Recent campaigning for the right to wear pyjamas outdoors by public social housing residents shows a "contemporary malaise" and misunderstanding of the term, he added. Referring to the pyjama debate, he added drily: "There are some areas where it is not appropriate to involve lawyers."

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