Prosecutor warns over cost-cutting
Lawyers could refuse to work for the prosecution service in Northern Ireland if cost-saving measures go ahead, the head of the service has warned.
Greater sums are being paid for defence legal work and the imbalance is expected to become worse, acting director of the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) Jim Scholes said.
The PPS expects to lose 9% of its budget over the next four years, a meeting of the Northern Ireland Assembly's Justice Committee heard.
Mr Scholes said: "There will likely be significant disparities between levels of remuneration. Unless our budget is upped, we will have to go ahead with the introduction of the graduated fee scheme.
"One consequence is a potential withdrawal of labour and some suggestion that victims' rights are less well funded than those of the defendant.
"It could mean we would have difficulty securing the services of lawyers or those of people who have the same quality as the defence."
At present, the PPS spends £37.4 million a year on legal costs, witness costs and its staff compared to £60 million on defence costs.
Under the proposed budgets for the next four years, PPS spending would fall to £33.9 million.
Mr Scholes added: "It is a matter for this legislature to decide whether it is appropriate that there should be an imbalance between the rates of remuneration between counsel for defence.
"If we pay defence lawyers four times what we pay prosecution lawyers, it may appear that we value the rights of defendants rather than victims. If there are significant disparities between the rates of remuneration, I would imagine good lawyers will tend to follow the higher rates of remuneration."