Law Society of Northern Ireland challenges new ministers to deliver on access to justice

Law Society of Northern Ireland challenges new ministers to deliver on access to justice

Pictured (L-R): The Law Society's senior vice president Rowan White, president Brigid Napier and junior vice president Brian Archer

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has challenged the new Executive to make access to justice a priority following next month’s elections.

In the first-ever document of its kind, the Law Society has set out 10 strategic priorities that require urgent attention, among them the need to ensure a “bare minimum” of £82 million is allocated to the legal aid budget.

The Legal Services Agency (LSA) was allocated less than £75.7 million in 2021/22 and required significant top-ups through in-year monitoring rounds, creating uncertainty and fluctuating payment times.

Writing in the introduction to its Justice Agenda 2022, Law Society president Brigid Napier said: “This is the first document of its kind in the Society’s 100-year history, and it is important to be clear from the outset that the Society is, and always will be, politically neutral. The contents of this document are equally relevant to all those standing for election regardless of their political affiliation.”

Of the 10 strategic priorities set out in the document, four are grouped under “access to justice”: protecting the legal aid budget, sustainable public funded legal services, closing the access to justice gap and addressing the legacy of the past.

Two are grouped under “post-Covid recovery”: recovering court business and supporting economic recovery. The final four are grouped under “justice reform”: protecting the public, digital transformation, modernising civil justice and promoting mediation.

In a statement, Ms Napier said: “I am pleased to launch the Justice Agenda today to outline the priorities for rebuilding our justice system which, like so many areas of life, is still recovering from the pandemic. As society faces an unprecedented cost of living crisis, it is more important than ever that those in power protect our most vulnerable by ensuring they have access to justice.

“The Law Society is committed to working constructively with the incoming Executive and the next justice minister to ensure we have a system that is fit for purpose. Access to justice must be at the centre of the next programme for government and the aim must be to deliver the justice system that the people of Northern Ireland deserve.”

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