Belfast Telegraph

Watchdog highlights legal aid fraud fear

By Victoria O'Hara

A government spending watchdog has published a damning report criticising measures aimed at preventing fraud in the legal aid system.

The head of the Audit Office expressed major concern that “sufficient safeguards” are not in place within the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission — the body that pays legal aid fees to lawyers — to tackle fraud.

It has paid out more than £400m in legal aid fees since it was established nine years ago.

The report said LSC accounts have been incomplete since 2003.

Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said the nature of the current legal aid scheme “creates difficulties” for the NILSC in determining if legal aid should be provided.

It recommended NILSC takes “urgent action” to identify the risks of fraud.

The commission said it had a programme of work in hand aimed at addressing the issues.

Mr Donnelly added: “I welcome the actions that NILSC is taking to prevent, detect and disclose fraud, but it seems likely to me that it will take some time before there are sufficient safeguards in place.”

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