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Contingencies Fund: Northern Ireland Court Service

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 28 January 2010

The Northern Ireland Court Service winter supplementary estimate for 2009-10 includes £84.5 million cash (£85.0 million resource) in respect of legal aid, intended to enable the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (NILSC) to discharge legal costs and meet its administration costs during 2009-10. Expenditure on legal aid in 2009-10 is forecast to exceed existing provision significantly because the NILSC is not only dealing with a high volume of very high-cost criminal cases but also a higher level of civil and criminal business.

Accordingly, parliamentary approval for additional resources of £17 million will be sought in a spring supplementary estimate for the Northern Ireland Court Service. Pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £17 million is being met by a repayable cash advance from the Contingencies Fund. The additional resources will enable the NILSC to discharge its statutory obligation to meet bills within the provision available to it.

Arrangements have been put in place to ensure that very high-cost cases are assessed and paid in a timely manner. There is a programme of reform aimed at reducing the cost of criminal legal aid and delivering reform to civil legal aid which will control cost and target funding on priority cases.