Belfast Telegraph

Minister calls for legal aid cuts

The legal aid budget should be reduced, the Justice Minister has said.

David Ford told the Assembly that outgoing chairman of the Legal Services Commission Jim Daniell would carry out a review of access to justice.

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

Mr Ford said a preliminary report should be available by February to help ensure the right to a fair trial while making savings.

"I want to build a system of justice in Northern Ireland that will meet the needs of everyone," the minister said.

"In criminal cases we need and deserve a system that works for all - victims, witnesses and defendants - and which gives everyone confidence that the system works."

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

Mr Ford said the report would "make proposals to achieve value for money in the use of public funds within the available budget, including identification of possible future savings to reduce the legal aid budget".

Mr Ford added: "While we must ensure that access to legal representation will always be available to those who need it, I believe that we should try to find ways of avoiding the costly, adversarial and often stressful experience of a court hearing in favour of alternative methods to resolving disputes."

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