Northern Ireland news

Long-running legal aid dispute resolved after mediation

A long-running dispute over legal aid has been resolved
Staff Reporter

A long-running dispute between lawyers and the justice minister which led to delays in more than 900 court cases was resolved last night.

The row over cuts to legal aid payments had delayed cases waiting to go to the Crown Court, including charges ranging from murder to drink driving.

Lawyers had argued the lower fees would affect their ability to represent clients.

Details of the agreement were not released last night, but barristers and solicitors will resume representing defendants in criminal cases today.

The deal came after fresh talks between the Department of Justice, the Law Society and Bar Council.

The talks, which began on Wednesday, were chaired by a senior English barrister.

In a joint statement, the three parties said they were "pleased to report that an agreement has been reached".

"All parties have worked to achieve this outcome in the interests of ensuring the continued effective and efficient operation of the criminal justice system in this jurisdiction."

Justice minister David Ford thanked all those involved in the mediation process "for their energy in reaching a resolution".

"The immediate return to representation for defendants will allow the justice system to continue in an effective and efficient manner," he said.

Barristers began to withdraw from cases last year in protest at the reduced payments. Some solicitors' firms also joined in the action.

Judicial review proceedings were launched by the Bar Council and Law Society in a bid to have the new payment arrangements quashed.

In November last year a High Court judge held that the rules do not provide fair pay to defence solicitors in some criminal cases, but declined to quash the rules.

An appeal was set to begin last month but following a suggestion put to the parties by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, the mediation took place.

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