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MLA: high expenditure on solicitors must be pared back

By Deborah McAleese

Northern Ireland's lawyers have been told to accept cutbacks to the level of public funds they receive as the debate over legal aid expenditure rumbles on.

Over the past seven years lawyers have been paid more than £500m from the public purse for criminal and civil cases.

During that period more than £1m was paid out twice to a single barrister. The top earning law firm for six years running was Kevin Winters & Co, which earned between £2.1m and £3.3m in legal aid each year.

David McIlveen MLA said that anyone who looks at how much lawyers have earned on legal aid would agree that something should be done about the level of expenditure.

"We as politicians want to make sure that this place runs as efficiently as possible," he said.

The Bar Council and the Law Society have agreed that cuts need to be made to the level of legal aid expenditure. However, concern has been raised by the legal profession over the extent of the cuts introduced by Justice Minister David Ford two months ago.

Lawyers have argued that heavy cutbacks will lead to a two-tier justice system and make it difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial.

Mr Ford has argued that the current payment levels are unsustainable and that the new fees will still be higher than those paid in England and Wales.

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