Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland legal aid row: Lawyers could withdraw services if cuts go ahead

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Media captionDavid Ford says the legal aid budget must be brought under control, as Lisa McAllister reports

The chair of the Bar Council in Northern Ireland has said local lawyers are prepared to withdraw their services if the justice minister's proposed cuts to legal aid are implemented.

Under David Ford's plans, legal aid payments to lawyers would be subject to a new levy of up to 15%.

Gerry McAlinden claimed that under the proposals some lawyers in family courts could earn less than the minimum wage.

He said legal challenges would be mounted against Mr Ford's plans.

"Obviously no-one wants to see people who require access to the courts being denied that at this stage," he said.

"I am adamant as chair of the Bar Council that every other avenue will be explored before such action is taken.

Image caption The chair of the Bar Council in Northern Ireland said legal challenges would be mounted to David Ford's plans

"We intend to launch legal challenges in relation to the proposed cuts, we will be doing so jointly with the law society.

"But, and I have to stress this, the mood of the membership both of the criminal bar and of the family practitioners is such that if these proposals are implemented and if these proposals are not struck down, there will be a withdrawal of services."

Mr Ford said the legal aid system in Northern Ireland was the "most generous in Europe" and that the proposals were against the backdrop of "difficult problems" in managing the Department of Justice budget.

"The reality is the legal aid system in Northern Ireland is the most generous in Europe.

"It is simply unsustainable at a time when cuts are being imposed on every front-line service in the Department of Justice.

"Everyone is facing cuts, because it was a 15% cut imposed on my department for the budget next year."

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