Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Annex A


Lord Chancellor

  1.  The Lord Chancellor has overall responsibility to Parliament for civil and criminal legal aid in Northern Ireland. He sets the overall policy framework for legal aid within which civil and criminal legal aid is administered. He is responsible for securing financial provision for legal aid and the Legal Aid Department's Grant in Aid.

The Law Society

  2.  The Law Society for Northern Ireland, through the Legal Aid Committee, is responsible for carrying out the functions assigned to it by the 1981 Order. The main functions are:

    (a)  since statutory responsibility for civil legal aid, unlike criminal legal aid, lies with the Law Society it is responsible to make arrangements, in accordance with the Scheme made by them with the approval of the Lord Chancellor and with the concurrence of the Treasury for securing that legal aid, advice and assistance are available as required and to administer the scheme—Article 18(1);

    (b)  to make an annual report to the Lord Chancellor—Article 18(8);

    (c)  to establish and administer the legal aid fund—Article 19(1);

    (d)  to submit estimates of the sums required to the Lord Chancellor—Article 19(7);

    (e)  to keep such accounts as the Lord Chancellor with the approval of the Treasury directs—Article 20(1);

    (f)  to furnish auditors with copies of the annual accounts—Article 20(2); and

    (g)  to make provision for pensions, allowances or gratuities in respect of employees by the Law Society—Article 21(1).

Legal Aid Committee

  3.  The Legal Aid Committee is a Committee of the Council of the Law Society. The Committee comprises between six and nine solicitors nominated by the Council of the Law Society, two barristers nominated by the General Council of the Bar of Northern Ireland and a barrister or solicitor nominated by the Lord Chancellor. Apart from the main functions as specified above set out in the 1981 Order the Legal Aid Committee has responsibility to define the Legal Aid Department's mission in relation to civil and criminal legal aid, to determine key objectives, to set priorities, to ensure that a quality service is delivered and value for money is achieved and to oversee procedures to ensure propriety of expenditure and good financial management.

  4.  It is the responsibility of the Legal Aid Committee to ensure that the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Department complies with the decisions of the Appropriate Authority (see paragraph 11) and with conditions attached to funding from the Grant in Aid.

  5.  The Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee, who is appointed by the Law Society after consultation with the Lord Chancellor and the Bar Council, also monitors and appraises the work of the Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Department.

Legal Aid Department

  6.  The Legal Aid Department is a Department of the Law Society for Northern Ireland established for the purpose of delivering an effective and efficient legal aid service. The functions of the Legal Aid Department in respect of civil legal aid are to give effect to the decisions of the Legal Aid Committee as regards the provision of legal aid. With regard to criminal legal aid the Department's functions are purely administrative acting in support of the Appropriate Authority.

  7.  The Legal Aid Department, through the Chief Executive, who reports to the Legal Aid Committee, administer the criminal and civil legal aid budgets and the Grant in Aid for both criminal and civil legal aid administration.

  8.  The objectives of the Legal Aid Department in respect of civil legal aid are:

    (a)  to act in ways which generally support and further the Lord Chancellor's objectives for legal aid;

    (b)  to ensure prompt availability of legal aid, advice and assistance as appropriate;

    (c)  to comply with decisions of the Legal Aid Committee and ensure that the scheme is efficiently and effectively managed; and

    (d)  to ensure that those who receive legal aid are provided with a service which meets defined levels of quality at a value for money price.

  9.  The objectives of the Legal Aid Department in respect of criminal legal aid are:

    (a)  to comply with decisions of the Appropriate Authority;

    (b)  to provide effective and efficient administrative support to the Appropriate Authority;

    (c)  to ensure that those claiming costs for criminal legal aid are provided with an administrative service which meets defined levels of quality at a value for money price.

  10.  There is also a responsibility on the Legal Aid Department to provide any assistance or liaison necessary to the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee.

Appropriate Authority

  11.  The Appropriate Authority comprises solicitors, barristers and lay representatives and functions in accordance with the 1992 Rules, having regard to such directions as have been issued by the Lord Chancellor. It is responsible for the efficient and effective performance of the duties placed upon it by the Rules. Its main purpose is to determine costs in respect of work done under a criminal legal aid certificate.

  12.  The main duties under the Rules are:

    (a)  the determination of costs in respect of work done under a criminal legal aid certificate in accordance with the Rules—Rule 4(1);

    (b)  in determining costs to take into account all relevant circumstances—Rule 4(3);

    (c)  to notify a solicitor or counsel of the costs so determined and authorise payment accordingly—Rule 10(1);

    (c)  to redetermine costs if the solicitor or counsel is dissatisfied with amount of costs allowed—Rule 12.

The Taxing Master

  13.  The Taxing Master is a Statutory Officer in the Supreme Court, appointed by the Lord Chancellor and he oversees remuneration rates in criminal cases to ensure they are fair and reasonable remuneration for work properly undertaken. There is a right of review of costs taxed by the Master to the High Court.

  14.  He also has responsibility for taxing legal costs in civil cases. This is done on an hourly rate basis taking account of the care and conduct of the proceedings by the relevant solicitor. Counsel's fees are taxed on the basis of fees agreed by the Taxing Master and the Bar Council in respect of pleadings and in respect of preparation, conduct and complexity of the case on the basis of the fee which a hypothetical solicitor and counsel would agree for such a case. The number of hours worked may be used as a pointer but the fee which a paying client would accept is what would be agreed at a conclusion of the case with the relevant hindsight as representing a fair and reasonable fee. There is a right of review to the High Court.

Legal Aid Advisory Committee

  15.  Article 23 of the Legal Aid, Advice and Assistance (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 provides for a Legal Aid Advisory Committee which is appointed by the Lord Chancellor to advise him on the operation of the scheme. The Advisory Committee provide an annual report on the scheme to the Lord Chancellor.

Northern Ireland Court Service

  16.  The Northern Ireland Court Service has responsibility for ensuring that the Legal Aid Department is informed as soon as possible about any matters which will, or may, affect the administration of the legal aid scheme or of criminal legal aid.

  17.  The Director of the Northern Ireland Court Service is responsible for ensuring that payments made are within the ambit and the amount of the Vote and that approval from Parliament is sought and obtained.

The Judiciary

  18.  The judiciary are responsible for awarding and refusing legal aid in criminal matters against the means test (insufficiency of means to pay for his own defence) and merits test (interests of justice).

  19.  The judiciary may also refer matters of concern for investigation to the Director of NICtS as Accounting Officer or the Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee.

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