Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Annex C

Letter from the Chairman of the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Court Service

  After I spoke to you yesterday I thought I should write and let you know the present position in relation to the LCLAAC investigation into the merits of a Contingency Legal Aid Fund for Northern Ireland. We have drawn up a research brief and are presently in discussions with the Research section of the Legal Services Commission about the time scale and scope of a feasibility study of our preferred models.

  When I spoke to Lord Bach in London I mentioned that, because of the extended consultations we had in January and February, there would be some slippage in the production of an interim report. We however still hoped to adhere to the time scale originally envisaged of producing a final report at the end of June and a preliminary report in May.

  It is now my view that the most important step to be taken is the feasibility study. We have formed some preliminary views and you are aware that a research brief has been prepared on the basis of these. Rather than produce an interim report I would now prefer to proceed with commissioning the feasibility study and undertake a more informal (and hopefully less time consuming) discussion with the vital interest groups.

  There is still considerable pressure on us as regards time and you are aware of the difficulties of getting the research completed. I also know that you are anxious to meet drafting deadlines. It seems to me however that, in face of the strong support for Claf within Northern Ireland (although there is some divergence on what form it should take), it is vital to undertake some form of viability assessment which we are now in a position to do.

  I hope this will help you inform the Select Committee of the stage we are at and I regret the degree of uncertainty about time scale but we are really in the hands of those who are capable of undertaking this. I take it that you will also brief Lord Bach on the position? I could write to him now but would prefer to wait until we know something more definite about the research time.

26 April 2001

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