David Ford to listen to views on justice system reform proposals
Stormont's Justice minister has vowed to listen to as many views as possible on his plans to overhaul the justice system.
A report ordered by David Ford and published earlier in the week has made 150 wide-ranging recommendations aimed at reducing costs and improving the experience of those involved in the justice process.
Among its recommendations, the Access to Justice Review Part II report called for a radical reduction in the use of two barristers in state-funded cases.
It argued that paying senior and junior counsel in complex hearings is no longer affordable because of the need to maintain support for family cases and other priorities.
The cost of public legal aid for those who cannot afford to pay lawyers has remained stubbornly high in recent years despite a period of austerity which has seen substantial reductions in most other areas of public spending.
On Friday, Mr Ford emphasised the need for feedback on the plans as he addressed the "Future of Access to Justice" conference - an event jointly organised by the University of Ulster Law Clinic and the Law Centre Northern Ireland.
"Today's conference provides an opportunity to start the engagement process and I am keen to hear as many views as possible," he said.
"Although the report is not just about legal aid, it understandably does have much to say on the subject. We currently have a comprehensive - and very expensive - legal aid scheme and we need to redesign it if it is to be sustainable into the future. There is a need to balance difficult decisions about the allocation of resources with new or more effective ways of getting help with legal problems."
The review called for greater use of mediation and making court proceedings less adversarial, with more work conducted by email or phone than during public hearings.
It called for significant reform of how cases are listed before courts and said judicial reviews of decisions by the state represented an increasing area of spending.
Legal aid funding should be based on the likelihood of the court ordering the substantive relief sought and should take into account human rights considerations, the wider public interest and any judicial decision to grant leave, the review said.
It said other funding criteria should ensure that only meritorious judicial reviews are paid for and that judicial reviews are not pursued until all reasonable alternatives to litigation have been tried.