Law Society NI defends legal aid against ‘bottomless pit’ claim
The Law Society of Northern Ireland has hit back at an MLA who complained about a “bottomless pit” of legal aid funding being made available to convicted criminals.
Maurice Morrow MLA made the remarks following reports that over £300,000 has been spent on court cases for convicted murderer Martin Murray, who has announced his intent to petition the UK Supreme Court in another appeal.
Mr Murray’s first trial cost around £100,000 and a subsequent High Court appeal cost a further £237,000.
Mr Morrow told the Belfast Telegraph that “serious examination is going to have to be undertaken of these cases in which legal aid is a bottomless pit of public cash for pointless challenges to convictions”.
However, the Law Society said decisions around legal aid were already scrutinised by impartial bodies and crucial to protecting democracy.
Arleen Elliott, president of the Law Society, told Irish Legal News: “Any payments made to solicitor firms for legal aid work in criminal cases are based on fees set by the Department of Justice and all claims for payment are scrutinised and approved by the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland.”
She added: “As citizens living in a democracy we accept that in protecting the right to a fair trial, legal representation should be made available to those who cannot afford it and to those charged with the most heinous of offences.”
Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister David Ford wants to bring forward changes to legal aid that would bring down the overall cost to the Northern Ireland Executive.
Earlier this year, Mr Ford said: “The reality is we have to meet the needs of the entire justice system within our budget, and we cannot fund legal aid at the level it has been funded in the past.”