Northern Ireland news

Legal aid changes blamed for big drop in prosecutions

Department of Justice statistics show a drop in cases prosecuted at the crown court in Northern Ireland

Crown Court prosecutions dropped by more than a third during 2015, mainly due to lawyers protesting at changes to legal aid, the Department of Justice has said.

The number of prosecutions 'disposed of' fell from 2,063 in 2014 to 1,312 last year, the first drop since justice powers were devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Prosecutions at magistrate's courts also fell but by less - from 29,417 in 2014 to 28,004 in 2015, a reduction of just under five per cent.

Of all the cases to appear before Northern Ireland's courts, 83 per cent resulted in a conviction.

In the Crown Court, which deals with more serious, or scheduled crimes, almost nine out of 10 defendants were male.

Those aged 18–24 were were most likely to appear in magistrates court, while 30-39 most common age group at the Crown Court.

Drugs offences had the highest conviction rate at all courts, at 93 per cent, with almost 2,000 people found guilty in 2015.

The drop in cases has been attributed to controversial changes to how legal aid is paid in Northern Ireland.

It meant barristers having to take a cut in wages for defending serious cases such as murder.

Some barristers and solicitors withdrew their representation from a range of Crown Court cases in protest.

Northern Ireland news

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