Lawyers win review over Ford’s legal aid cuts

David Ford said the legal aid reforms are necessary and just
David Ford said the legal aid reforms are necessary and just

Solicitors and barristers in Northern Ireland have won High Court permission to challenge Justice Minister David Ford’s cuts to legal aid payments.

A judge granted leave for bodies representing the two professions to seek a judicial review of the new rules.

In court on Friday senior counsel representing both the Law Society and Bar Council claimed the payment changes do not provide fair remuneration for work carried out to ensure defendants receive a fair trial.

Karen Quinlivan QC said: “They will have a devastating impact on the criminal justice system both now and in the future.

“Our concern is it will lead to an erosion in due course of advocacy and representation.”

The two bodies have joined forces in a bid to have Mr Ford’s legal aid reforms overturned.

They want a declaration that the new rules are unlawful.

Barristers have vowed to continue with a strike over the cuts, while law firms have withdrawn professional services in criminal cases as part of the protest.

The Justice Minister, who introduced the reforms to payments for criminal work this month, insists they are necessary and just.

With Mr Ford facing a reduced departmental budget, he has maintained that Northern Ireland could not continue to fund the UK’s highest level of legal aid pay.

Counsel for the minister, Tony McGleenan QC, revealed that he has received 2,000 pages of legal exhibits as part of the challenge.

More documentation from a forensic accountant’s report is still to come, he told the court.

Seeking six weeks to reply to full arguments in the case, Mr McGleenan said: “We have quite a substantial body of work in responding to this.”

Mr Justice Treacy had granted leave to seek a judicial review after studying the papers and determining an arguable case was made out.

He agreed to list the case for a full, week-long hearing in September.

Confirming her clients’ position, Ms Quinlivan added: “If we are successful we will be seeking to quash retrospectively the unlawful rules.”