Northern Ireland

Legal aid dispute: Lawyers and DoJ enter mediation

Lawyers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland are to enter mediation in a bid to end a bitter pay dispute
Image caption Lawyers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland are to enter mediation in a bid to end a bitter pay dispute

Lawyers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland are to enter mediation in a bid to end a pay dispute.

Justice Minister David Ford introduced what he said were necessary cuts to payments to lawyers in May 2015.

Defence lawyers have withdrawn from new criminal cases requiring legal aid in protest at the changes.

The ongoing dispute has stalled about 800 cases due to be heard in the Crown Court.

A two-day process aimed at resolving a stand-off, will take place within the next fortnight.

It is understood that both sides have agreed on an English QC to act as mediator.

Some solicitors' firms have also joined in the industrial action.

Adjourned

Senior judges adjourned an ongoing court challenge to the new rules for legal aid fees in Northern Ireland after being informed of the development.

Judicial review proceedings were launched by the Bar Council and the Law Society in a joint bid to have the new payment arrangements quashed.

In November 2015, a High Court judge held that the rules do not provide fair pay to defence solicitors in some criminal cases.

He also identified a breach in the impact assessment carried out as part of the reforms.

However, despite declaring the decision making process unlawful in two areas, he declined to quash the rules.

Appeal

An appeal against his verdict was due to begin this week in front of three senior judges in Belfast.

On Friday, following a suggestion put to the parties by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, it was confirmed that mediation is to take place.

The Court of Appeal was told the Bar Council, Law Society and the Department of Justice have all signed up.

On that basis, legal proceedings were put on hold.

The judges also listed the case for a provisional three-day hearing in February, should the mediation prove unsuccessful.

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