Belfast Telegraph

Solicitors refuse cases in pay row

Solicitors in Belfast have refused to take any serious criminal case in the higher court since last week in a dispute over pay.

The Solicitors Criminal Bar Association (SCBA) is backing the decision by lawyers not to represent their clients in the Crown Court.

It follows a conflict between the association and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, which wants to save millions of pounds in legal aid.

The Government spends dramatically increasing sums every year on paying for those accused of crimes such as murder and rape to be legally represented.

Pearse MacDermott, from the association, said: "Recent action has been taken as it is felt that the rates of remuneration introduced will jeopardise access to justice, particularly in more complicated and serious criminal cases."

Cases can spend months being heard in magistrates' courts before they are passed to the Crown Court.

Mr MacDermott added 100% of briefs in Belfast proceeding from the magistrates' to Crown Court since Wednesday have involved solicitors refusing to take them and the same action had been taken across other parts of Northern Ireland.

Solicitors calculate that they face a 54% reduction in the level of fees for legal services provided to defendants in crown courts following changes introduced last Wednesday.

They said they were conscious of the economic downturn and the strain on public resources. They have already submitted a joint proposal with the Bar Council of barristers which they believe would yield savings worth £16.7 million, but which Courts Service sources disputed.

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