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Ford outlines proposals on reform of financial eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid

Justice Minister David Ford has published for consultation proposals to reform financial eligibility for civil and criminal legal aid.
Friday, 29 March 2013

Minister of Justice David Ford MLA

Proposals outlined in the ‘Reform of Financial Eligibility for Civil and Criminal Legal Aid’ consultation document include the possible introduction of threshold limits for the magistrates’ courts regarding criminal legal aid, simplifying the current means tests for the three areas of Civil Legal Aid and some ideas for how early advice and assistance could be delivered in the future.

In signaling his intention to reform the financial eligibility of legal aid David Ford said: “Expenditure on civil legal aid has increased significantly in recent years and the current procedures need to be reformed so that in future, publicly funded legal services can be delivered within budget. Implementing all the proposals I have published today could potentially save in excess of £3.5m annually.

“As part of my reform agenda I have already taken action on criminal legal aid which will result in a reduction in legal aid annual expenditure of some £20m.”

Whilst the proposals will help reduce spending in this area the Minister reiterated his commitment to providing access to Justice for those who do not have the financial means to pay legal fees.

He said: “Northern Ireland has one of the most generous legal aid schemes in Europe and it is no longer sustainable.

“Whilst I am committed to protecting those people who do not have the financial means to pay legal fees I am equally committed to reforming publicly funded legal services so that we deliver a sustainable service secured for the future.

“As part of that we must have adequate financial eligibility assessment procedures in place to ensure that those who can afford to pay for their own representation do so and those who cannot have considered the financial implications of proceeding in much the same way as a privately paying client.”

The consultation period closes on 21 June 2013.

Notes to Editors

  1. 1. The consultation paper launched on 29 March. The consultation will run for a period of 12 weeks and responses are sought by 21 June 2013.
  2. 2. This consultation paper set out a number of proposals regulating civil legal aid means assessment as well as two options aimed at introducing a fixed means assessment into the magistrates’ court and puts forward some broad proposals for changes to early advice and assistance (the current Green Form Scheme). If fully implemented these proposals could produce savings in excess of £3.5 million per annum.
  3. 3. People who want to respond to the consultation paper, or ask further questions should contact:
    Consultation Co-ordinator
    Public Legal Services Division
    Department of Justice
    Massey House
    Stormont Estate
    BT4 3SX
    Fax: 028 9016 9502
    Tel: 028 9016 9533
    Text phone: 028 9052 7668
  4. 4. This is part of a series of planned consultations aimed at reforming civil and criminal legal aid in Northern Ireland.
  5. 5. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440.