Legal professions issue stark warning over proposed Northern Ireland justice cuts
The Bar of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland have issued a stark joint warning over proposed cuts to Northern Ireland’s justice budget, which the professions say will undermine access to justice.
Representatives of the barrister and solicitor professions have been meeting with MLAs to raise practitioners’ concerns over the proposed cuts, which come as the justice system is already facing a huge backlog of cases and delays.
Both the Bar and the Law Society argue that the proposed cuts contained in the Executive’s draft budget will have a detrimental impact on the local economy, forcing many solicitors and barristers to cease practice or restrict their services.
This is in stark contrast to the plans of other neighbouring jurisdictions, particularly England and Wales, where there have been investments in both the justice and health systems.
David Lavery CB, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “Lawyers are all too aware of the significant strains under which the justice system is now operating and the real impact that these proposals will have on their clients, the community and their ability to access justice in Northern Ireland.
“Under these proposals, the most vulnerable in our society will be denied access to justice and there will be a significant economic impact as many practices across Northern Ireland will be forced to cease offering publicly-funded services or be put out of business entirely.
“The Executive must reconsider its budget proposals if they are to maintain the network of local lawyers and the invaluable services they provide to their communities and those in need across Northern Ireland.”
David Mulholland, chief executive of the Bar, said: “In highlighting these issues, the Bar and Law Society are speaking up for the many individuals and families within our communities who rely upon us and Legal Aid to help them when they are at their most vulnerable.
“The Department have acknowledged that this budget will force barristers and solicitors out of business and will deprive our clients, often facing complex legal issues regarding families and children, of the help and assistance that they need and deserve.
“This will cause untold and irreversible individual, societal and economic harm. The proposed budget is wholly unsustainable. It ignores the reality that, like the health service, legal aid is demand-led and has a serious backlog of cases that must be dealt with.
“We urgently need longer term solution and strategic thinking from the Executive and the justice minister to solve this issue.”