Officials questioned over legal aid impasse

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Justice department (DoJ) officials have been pressed to explain why it took an intervention from Northern Ireland’s most senior judge to resolve the long-running row over legal aid.

A nine-month dispute which had seen barristers and solicitors refuse to take on new legal aid work in the criminal courts was resolved by way of mediation last week.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan suggested the mediation route just before the Bar Council and Law Society were about to mount another court challenge against Justice Minister David Ford’s changes to their fee scales.

As DoJ officials appeared before the justice committee yesterday, UUP MLA Danny Kennedy said: “It is interesting to say the least that the only person who thought that mediation was an option in this was the Lord Chief Justice.”

The agreement reduced the scale of the DoJ’s proposed £8 million cut to criminal legal aid payouts to £5.6m.