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Judge tells David Ford to fix the legal aid fee rules


Published 14/11/2015

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

New rules for legal aid fees in Northern Ireland do not provide fair pay to defence solicitors in some criminal cases, the High Court has ruled.

A judge also identified a breach in the impact assessment carried out around Justice Minister David Ford's reforms.

But despite declaring the decision making process unlawful in two areas, Mr Justice Maguire refused to quash the rules.

Instead, he said it was up to the Department of Justice to now rectify the situation "speedily".

His verdict came in a joint challenge to the legal aid fee cuts by solicitors and barristers.

Mr Ford introduced the reforms to payments for criminal work in May, insisting they are necessary and just.

With the Minister facing a reduced departmental budget, he has maintained that Northern Ireland cannot continue to fund the UK's highest level of legal aid pay.

But lawyers have taken industrial action in response to the cuts, withdrawing professional services in criminal cases as part of the protest.

Judicial review proceedings were launched by the Bar Council and the Law Society.

They argued that the two professional bodies are being denied fair or reasonable payment, and that the cuts could result in innocent defendants being convicted.

An allegedly flawed impact assessment, consultation process and statistical comparative analysis renders the rules unlawful, according to their case.

But Mr Justice Maguire held that no ministerial irrationality had been established.

He also rejected claims that consultation was carried out with a pre-ordained outcome.

Speaking outside, Gerry McAlinden QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: "It would be wholly inappropriate for the Department to continue to implement rules which the court has held to be unlawful in two respects."

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