Belfast Telegraph

Lawyers to appeal as court refuses to quash fees ruling

By Alan Erwin

Lawyers are to mount an appeal after the High Court refused to quash new rules for legal aid fees in Northern Ireland, it has emerged.

Confirmation of the move came yesterday as barristers vowed to continue turning down criminal cases in protest at Justice Minister David Ford's reforms.

Their position, which could result in a worsening backlog of delayed trials, was reaffirmed at a meeting of the Bar of Northern Ireland on Monday night.

Bar Council Chairman Gerry McAlinden QC said membership made their views clear.

"We will go forward with the appeal case," he confirmed.

"Criminal practitioners have indicated that they are resolute in their current action of not appearing in such cases.

"It is a source of major concern that we now face a period of prolonged action which will only further deepen the difficulties, pressure and backlog already evident in the system."

Last month, a High Court judge held that the new rules do not provide fair pay to defence solicitors in some criminal cases.

He also identified a breach in the impact assessment carried out around Justice Minister David Ford's reforms, but despite declaring the decision-making process unlawful in two areas, Mr Justice Maguire declined to quash the rules.

Instead, he said it was up to the Department of Justice to rectify the situation "speedily". His verdict came in a joint challenge to the legal aid fee cuts mounted by solicitors and barristers.

Mr Ford introduced the reforms to payments for criminal work in May, insisting they are both necessary and just.

With the minister facing a reduced departmental budget, he has maintained that Northern Ireland cannot continue to fund the UK's highest level of legal aid pay.

Lawyers have taken industrial action in response to the cuts, withdrawing professional services in criminal cases as part of the protest.

Well over 500 criminal cases are currently unable to proceed because of the dispute. Judicial review proceedings were launched by the Bar Council and the Law Society.

They argued that the two professional bodies are being denied fair or reasonable payment, and that the cuts could result in innocent defendants being convicted.

Mr Justice Maguire held that no ministerial irrationality had been established.

Belfast Telegraph


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