Cuts to legal aid in Northern Ireland will endanger public access to justice in the region, a solicitors' representative body has warned.
The Law Society NI criticised a proposal by Justice Minister David Ford to apply a 15% levy on legal aid payments in the coming financial year in a bid to cut the £100 million-plus bill by around £20 million.
Society president Arleen Elliott predicted some solicitors firms would have to consider whether conducting legal aid work was viable in the future.
"The proposals outlined by the Justice Minister will undermine the confidence of local solicitors who undertake legal aid work on behalf of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members within the community," she said.
"The Society's members have recognised the budgetary pressures, however the ministers proposal to make a further 15% cut to the budget is wholly unacceptable. What other profession would be willing to undertake work in such circumstances whilst being expected to deliver the same gold service to clients.
"Given that as small business units solicitor practices already continue to face the wider economic pressures of a recovering economy today's announcement is unwelcome. Many solicitor practices must be considering if it is economically viable for them to continue to provide legal aid services to the community.
"The Law Society of Northern Ireland has consistently said that there is a need to take a holistic approach to examining efficiency and economy within the Justice system. That call continues to fall on deaf ears as what is being proposed will further damage access to justice when a better and more considerate approach is required by all."