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Proposals for legal aid fees in family proceedings 'aim to reduce bureaucracy'

Published 23/10/2015

The Department of Justice has held intensive talks with the legal profession
The Department of Justice has held intensive talks with the legal profession

Proposals for civil legal aid fees for family courts will reduce bureaucracy and improve predictability, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said.

There have been intensive talks with the legal professions and a further draft of the proposals for family proceedings was provided two weeks ago.

DoJ official Mark McGuckin said the department was seeking to strike the right balance between remuneration for work done and the available budget.

He said the underlying objective was to introduce a standard fee regime which will provide "appropriate remuneration, reduce bureaucracy and improve predictability" for legal professionals and the Legal Services Agency.

He added: "We are a good way along the track of reaching a conclusion.

"I think the legal profession are reasonably content with the approach in terms of a standardised fee arrangement which is predictable and they can see, providing there is sufficient flexibility there to deal with exceptional circumstances."

One main issue surrounds reaching a consensus on what constitutes an exceptional case and deserves more resources.

Mr McGuckin said the department had reduced the amount of savings it was seeking from the legal aid budget.

He added that the new proposals contained a number of significant adjustments developed after listening to the legal professions and told Stormont Justice Committee members that the DoJ has adopted an "open and transparent" approach in sharing data with forensic accountants employed by the professions in an effort to improve confidence in the proposals.

He also stated that the department has adjusted the proposed fees when necessary as there are some more serious complex cases in which a single fee would not have provided proper remuneration.

Mr McGuckin said the department had aimed to reduce costs by 20%. He noted that the savings are now likely to be lower than this.

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