Slashing legal aid budget 'will put children at risk'
Plans to slash the legal aid budget could put children at risk, a solicitor has warned.
Justice Minister David Ford wants to cap the bill - currently running at more than £100m a year - at £65m.
But his proposals have drawn strong opposition from the legal profession, which has mounted a court challenge.
Solicitors and barristers have joined forces in a bid to have the reforms declared unlawful.
The Law Society has warned that slicing the budget could have a catastrophic impact on access to justice.
Its president Arleen Elliott warned the cuts could impact on family matters and potentially leave children at risk.
"It would have a massive impact on family matters, which is a big part of solicitors' work," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"You have issues surrounding children, separation, divorce and so on.
"It would be a huge, huge step back if cuts were implemented that meant that children were put at risk."
Ms Elliott denied she was scaremongering, saying the threat was feasible.
"Over the last number of years we have all seen the very serious stories which have emerged where children have effectively been ignored or not listened to," she added.
The Department of Justice denied that children would be directly impacted by the cuts.
The legal aid bill for the 2014/15 financial year is forecast to be £101.7m - more than 25% over budget. Responding to concerns over legal aid cuts, a Department of Justice spokesman said: "Unlike the reforms in England and Wales, the Department of Justice does not intend to remove legal aid funding for representation in Public or Private Law Children proceedings.
"Representation will continue to be available, paid for by the public purse, in these cases and to suggest otherwise is misleading and untrue."