NI legal aid payments: lawyers to seek judicial review of new rules
Solicitors and barristers in Northern Ireland have been granted permission to take legal action to try to overturn planned cuts to the legal aid budget.
A judge granted the Law Society and Bar Council leave to seek a judicial review of Justice Minister David Ford's rules.
The hearing is scheduled to take place in September.
A barrister representing the two bodies said the reduced payments did not give lawyers fair reward for their work to ensure defendants got a fair trial.
"They will have a devastating impact on the criminal justice system both now and in the future," said Karen Quinlivan QC.
"Our concern is it will lead to an erosion in due course of advocacy and representation."
She added: "If we are successful we will be seeking to quash retrospectively the unlawful rules."
Mr Ford, who is facing cuts to his departmental budget along with other Northern Ireland Executive ministers, introduced new rules this month that reduce the legal aid payments available to lawyers who undertake criminal case work.
Earlier this week, barristers who are part of the Criminal Bar Association withdrew from all new criminal cases requiring legal aid, in protest against the reduced payments.
A barrister for the minister told the court he had received 2,000 pages of legal exhibits as part of the challenge, with further documentation from a forensic accountant's report still to come.
Seeking six weeks to assess the material, Tony McGleenan QC said: "We have quite a substantial body of work in responding to this."
Granting leave to seek a judicial review, the judge agreed to list the case for a full, week-long hearing in September.
In a statement, Mr Ford said he would be "robustly defending the legal challenge".
"The levels of remuneration were set following detailed analysis; adjusted following consultation; and have been through the legislative process," he said.
"Given that this challenge is now before the courts, I will not be making any further public comment on the issue until the legal process is completed.
"However, my department will monitor the impact the withdrawal of services will have on the courts and they will engage with all sectors of the justice system to try to mitigate any impact on defendants, victims and witnesses."