Due to concerns regarding the costs of professional indemnity insurance and other issues, solicitors from one city in Northern Ireland have recently voted to withdraw from any Crown Court cases in which their clients receive legal aid.
The Lisburn Solicitors’ Association in the city has recently come out to support a new Law Society directive stating that, unless solicitors are remunerated in an adequate or reasonable manner, they must not undertake work. This is to ensure that solicitor firms can manage growing overhead costs associated with professional liability insurance premiums and other expenses.
This is the latest salvo fired in the war between the Department of Justice and Northern Ireland’s legal profession, which has been battling over the amount paid to those lawyers in legal aid. In defense of the new directive, one Lisburn Association spokesman remarked that all solicitor firms have overheads (which include business liability insurance premiums), and firms need to take work that is economically viable in order to meet their overheads.
The spokesman also remarked that solicitors have been left with no suitable alternative, as it is no longer cost effective to take on the work of legal aid cases due to the budgetary cuts handed down by the Government. A reduction of more than 50 per cent in legal aid rates is in store for local solicitors that are involved in any sort of serious criminal litigation, he added.
Northern Ireland’s criminal justice system could be in serious crisis due to these rate reductions, local solicitors believe. This is because more and more solicitor firms will soon decide that criminal work is not economically feasible and controverts the directive from the Law Society.