To ask Her Majesty's Government what circumstances within the legal aid system in Northern Ireland led to the withdrawal or suspension of services to some who had qualified to receive legal aid; and what the latest position is. [HL587]
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many lawyers in Northern Ireland have withdrawn or suspended their defence services due to a dispute over the timeliness of payments under the legal aid system. [HL588]
To ask Her Majesty's Government how many court cases in Northern Ireland have been affected by problems involving legal aid payments; what effect this is having on the courts' timetables; what has been the estimated cost of such delays; and when the matter will be resolved. [HL589]
The Bar Council of Northern Ireland recently resolved that “No counsel at the Bar of Northern Ireland shall be required to accept or retain any brief ... in any matter, criminal or otherwise, if he or she reasonably forms the view that fair remuneration will not be forthcoming within a reasonable time”. In reliance on this, counsel have declined to act in a number of cases in the Crown Court and in the County Court Family Care Centre pending resolution of difficulties regarding the payment of legal aid fees for such cases.
In the Crown Court six cases have been deferred and in the Family Care Centre 16 cases have been affected. No separate identifiable cost will result from the rescheduling of these cases.
Arrangements have been made to expedite legal aid payments in very high cost criminal cases in the Crown Court. The Lord Chancellor has also approved an interim payment scheme for cases where fees have not been paid after six months in such cases.
Discussions are well advanced to resolve the outstanding difficulty in relation to legal aid fees for Family Care Centre cases.