David Ford plans legal services review

David Ford David Ford is launching a review of public legal services

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Justice minister David Ford is to examine ways in which legal help may be made more readily available to the public.

Mr Ford is launching a review of public legal services which would consider whether legal aid money should be made available to people using advice centres.

He has also confirmed plans for imposing a levy on offenders.

Any money raised would go to a fund to provide support for victims of crime.

Mr Ford is also to consult on sentencing guidelines to ensure offenders get broadly similar sentences when found guilty of crimes of a similar nature.

He outlined his plans during a keynote speech at Castle Buildings on Monday.

Mr Ford said the devolution of justice gave politicians a "once in a generation opportunity to reshape the justice system".

He urged others to work in partnership with him "to make it a reality".

"If devolution of policing and justice means anything, it means that the minister is accountable to the Assembly and the public, closer to the ground and better able to respond to the community's concerns," he said.

"But as justice minister, I am determined that this level of scrutiny and accountability will not lead to a conservative, play safe 'do the minimum necessary' approach.

"We have problems in our justice system and in the wider community and for these problems we must, and will, find solutions."

Reforms

The justice minister said he was already bringing forward a range of reforms on legal aid expenditure but also wanted to "extend this to help people secure access to justice".

"Simply reducing the cost of the current legal aid system would be a missed opportunity," he said.

"We need a system that puts much greater emphasis on finding solutions to problems outside court and less emphasis on fighting cases inside court.

"We should provide a much wider choice in the sources of legal help available to those in need.

"I want to 'bring the law to the people' through advice centres and legal clinics."

Mr Ford said that later this month he will announce the membership of the panel to lead the review of prisons, starting at Maghaberry jail.

He also intends to start discussions with the First Minister and deputy First Minister on whether the relationship the law sets down between the new Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service "needs to be looked at again".

Mr Ford intends to present the first justice bill in 40 years to the assembly after the summer recess.

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