II. THE PRESENT SYSTEM OF LEGAL AID IN
6. The statutory basis for the present system of
legal aid in Northern Ireland is the Legal Aid, Advice and Assistance
(Northern Ireland) Order 1981.
Responsibility for administering civil legal aid is vested in
the Law Society of Northern Ireland
and this function is exercised through the Society's Legal Aid
Committee and Legal Aid Department. The Law Society also administers
most aspects of the criminal legal aid scheme on behalf of the
Northern Ireland Court Service.
In its memorandum, the Court Service gives a detailed description
of the systems of civil and criminal legal aid operating in the
Province and of the responsibilities of the main participants.
7. Expenditure on legal aid has grown significantly
in recent years and further growth is expected before the reforms
take effect. The overall net cost
has increased from £21.85 million in 1994-95 to £32.67
million in 1998-99, an increase of nearly 50 per cent.
Lord Bach told us
that, between 1990-91 and 1999-2000, net fund expenditure had
increased by 116 per cent in real terms, compared with 73 per
cent in England and Wales over the same period. As the table
below shows, the growth in the real cost of criminal legal aid
has been disproportionately great.
||Rate of growth
|Type of legal aid
||England and Wales
In the financial year 2000-01, about 60 per cent
of the total provision of around £38 million was spent on
criminal legal aid.
Lord Bach pointed out that the proportion of overall legal aid
funding devoted to criminal legal aid had increased very markedly
8. Despite the rapid rate of increase, net expenditure
on legal aid per head of population, and the cost of proceedings,
remain lower in Northern Ireland than in England and Wales. Lord
Bach thought that this might reflect both lower overheads and
lower profits in Northern Ireland.
9. The substantial growth in expenditure does not
necessarily appear to correlate with the number of applications
granted. Over the period 1995 to 1999, the number of applications
granted for criminal legal aid was, if anything, declining.
Statistics for the grant of civil legal aid certificates over
the period 1993-94 to 1997-98 showed a similar trend,
whereas Assistance by Way of Representation (ABWOR) showed a small
9 Ev. p. 1. Back
to hereafter as "The Law Society". Back
to hereafter as "The Court Service". Back
p. 2 to 9. Back
overall net cost figures include expenditure both on the legal
aid fund and on the cost of administering legal aid. Back
the grant-in-aid to the Law Society for administration. Back
3, 6 and Ev. p. 26. Back
on data at Ev. p. 25-26. Back
These figures relate to the legal aid fund and exclude the cost
of administering legal aid. Back
5. See also Appendix 12, p. 51-53. Back
p. 7. Back
p. 5. Back
p. 4. ABWOR typically represents in the region of 5 per cent
of total net expenditure on legal aid, inclusive of administration