Cuts to legal aid payments for lawyers in Northern Ireland could result in innocent defendants being convicted, the High Court has heard.
A judge was told Justice Minister David Ford's new rules may lead to the rich alone having proper access to effective representation. Solicitors and barristers have joined forces in a bid to have the reforms declared unlawful. Opening their case, Karen Quinlivan QC argued that Parliament originally brought in legal aid as a form of social welfare.
Mr Ford introduced the reforms to payments for criminal work in May, insisting they are 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. But lawyers have taken industrial action, withdrawing professional services in criminal cases as part of the protest.
As a planned four-day judicial review got under way yesterday, Ms Quinlivan insisted the right to defendants receiving a fair trial, represented by skilled and competent lawyers, is a cornerstone of the rule of law.
The case continues.