NI legal aid system not fit for purpose says report

CJI chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said he wanted to ensure tax-payers money is being spent appropriately

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The system for administering tens of millions of pounds of legal aid payments in Northern Ireland is not fit for purpose, inspectors have said.

The Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) report calls for radical reform of the NI Legal Services Commission (NILSC) to combat spiralling costs.

Justice Minister David Ford said he remained determined to reduce the costs.

The NILSC said it fully accepted the need for reform.

Legal aid costs in Northern Ireland are still the most expensive in the world despite Mr Ford saying that reducing the bill was a policy priority.

The CJI said the bill for criminal cases was being tackled, but the same was not true for civil cases.

'Failed'

CJI chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "We want to ensure that the tax-payers money is being spent appropriately and at this period of time, it looks as if the legal aid budget is out of control."

The justice minister said the report did not mean his policy has failed.

"Our policy was to tackle the spiralling cost of criminal legal aid first," he said.

"We have dealt with that, we have at least levelled it off, and we're now having to tackle the cost of civil legal aid."

Mr Ford said the reported highlighted "some of the problems which we're already addressing".

"It gives us some indication of where the inspectors see potential for the way forward, which is very much in line with the thinking we have within the department," he said.

"It emphasises the imperative of the reform programme that we have under way to ensure that we drive it through successfully to get the best value for money for the people of Northern Ireland and to ensure that we're able to put the money into our aspects of my departments spending."

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