Justice cuts would create ‘legal aid deserts’ in Northern Ireland

Justice cuts would create 'legal aid deserts' in Northern Ireland

Pictured (L-R): Law Society chief executive David Lavery CB and Bar chief executive David Mulholland

Proposed cuts to Northern Ireland’s justice budget would create “legal aid deserts” with access to justice severely curtailed or completely non-existent in many local towns, Stormont’s justice committee will be warned today.

Representatives from the Law Society and the Bar will tell MLAs that proposed budgetary cuts coupled with the huge backlog in the justice system will have a significant impact on solicitor firms and barrister practices.

They will argue that the proposed cuts will hit the most vulnerable in society the hardest as they will struggle to fund legal proceedings or get professional legal advice and support on life changing issues.

The Law Society and the Bar have been calling on political decision makers to urgently review the proposed cuts and to consider the real implications on their local communities and constituents.

Speaking ahead of the committee hearing, David A. Lavery CB, chief executive of the Law Society in Northern Ireland, said: “Lawyers are all too aware of the significant pressures the justice system is currently operating under. It has been estimated that it may take until 2027 at the earliest for these backlogs to be cleared. The current proposals by the Department will cause further delays.

“Solicitor firms in Northern Ireland tend to be relatively small, with over a quarter comprising only one solicitor while there are relatively few firms in the South and West of the province. It is these small, rural practices which are most under threat and the closure of those firms would be very damaging to the communities they serve.

“This budget proposal must be reconsidered to ensure the network of legal representation throughout Northern Ireland is maintained and that communities can easily access the justice system.”

David Mulholland, chief executive of the Bar of Northern Ireland, added: “Many people across Northern Ireland rely on legal aid to gain help on important issues including, the care of vulnerable children, family separation, domestic violence and the functioning of the criminal justice system.

“It is difficult to stress the importance of legal aid to people until someone they know has to access a legal representative for help. It is usually a time of untold stress, anxiety, and worry. Without the proper support, our profession’s ability to do so will be severely limited.

“The proposed budget creates the very real risk of forcing solicitors in many towns across Northern Ireland to cease practice. It will also massively reduce the availability of barristers to represent cases in court as the viability of taking on legal aid cases becomes unsustainable.

“Justice delayed is justice denied. These proposals will see ordinary people being left behind and deserted by the justice system.”

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