Northern Ireland

NI legal aid dispute over fee cuts is resolved

Barrister's wig and legal reference books in court
Image caption Since May of last year, many lawyers have been refusing to work on criminal cases involving legal aid because of fee cuts, but the strike is due to end on Friday after a breakthrough in mediation talks

A dispute between lawyers and Northern Ireland's justice minister over cuts to legal aid payments has been resolved.

The row had resulted in delays in more than 900 court cases, including charges ranging from murder to drink driving.

Barristers and solicitors had claimed the lower rates would undermine their ability to properly represent clients who could not afford pay legal fees.

Since May of last year, many refused to work on criminal cases involving legal aid but the strike is to end on Friday.

It follows fresh talks between the Department of Justice, The Law Society and Bar Council which began on Wednesday.

'Effective and efficient'

The talks were chaired by a senior English barrister and a breakthrough was announced on Thursday evening.

In a joint statement, the department, the Law Society and the Bar Council said they were "pleased to report that an agreement has been reached".

"All parties have worked to achieve this outcome in the interests of ensuring the continued effective and efficient operation of the criminal justice system in this jurisdiction."

The Bar Council and the Solicitors' Criminal Bar Association confirmed that their members will resume representation of defendants in criminal cases on Friday.

Justice Minister David Ford thanked all those involved in the mediation process and said: "The immediate return to representation for defendants will allow the justice system to continue in an effective and efficient manner."