A senior barrister has today warned that proposed cuts in the funding of civil legal aid will undermine the ability of ordinary people to access the justice system.
Bar Council Chairman, Mark Mulholland QC said it is "imperative that people have the right to access the most senior legal representation when it is required on the basis of need not simply their ability to pay."
Speaking at the second annual Bar Council of Northern Ireland Conference at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Mr Mulholland said: "If you are in danger of losing your liberty, your children, your right to decide your own future, your livelihood, your home or your reputation - recourse to the law should be open to you.”
Northern Ireland’s legal aid expenditure is believed to be the most expensive in the world. Justice Minister David Ford last week outlined proposals to save millions of pounds in a range of cases including child custody battles and divorces.
The justice department intends to cut annual legal aid bills by £20m and proposes to do that by reducing lawyers’ pay, restricting the number of barristers allowed to work on civil cases and reducing the use of expert witnesses.
It is understood that in the past year one lawyer was paid an estimated £900,000 for civil legal aid work.