Solicitor assures no legal aid problem in Northern Ireland

Lenore Rice of Wilson Nesbitt solicitors in Belfast, Northern Ireland, confirmed that there "is no legal aid resources problem in Northern Ireland" like that being faced in England and Wales. Clients seeking legal assistance via legal aid should not be concerned about recent reports in the media commenting on shortages of legal aid resources; a problem which has occurred across England and Wales.

Law firms across England and Wales are finding themselves in the position of having to turn away potential clients, many of whom are victims of domestic abuse, or have similar urgent need for legal assistance, because the firm has exhausted its annual allowance of Legal aid cases.

In previous years, requests made by lawyers for an increase in case allocations have been granted, however due to a change in government policy it would appear that once the limit has been exceeded the doors are to be closed to clients seeking representation with legal aid assistance.

Law firms could soon face bankruptcy as they already work to very slim margins on legal aid cases according to Resolution, an organisation that represents family lawyers and are seeking an urgent meeting with Lord Bach, minister for legal aid. From 2000 to 2008 the number of family legal aid practices has been estimated to have decreased from 4,500 to fewer than 2,700.

Many firms had already used up their approved quota of cases for the year by July; believed to be because of the rise in family and recession-related work and an increase in child care cases as a result of the Baby P case.
Such law firms have been advised that clients must be sent to other firms with some having to travel long distances to see a solicitor.

Karen Mackay, chief executive of Resolution, said: "Victims of domestic abuse or parents who face losing contact with their children many find themselves unrepresented as family lawyers are suddenly being told that they cannot take on new legal aid clients once they have used up their quota of cases."

"Once firms are lost to legal aid, they will not return and access to justice will be lost permanently", she added.

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