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
(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 schemeArticle 18(1);
(b) to make an annual report to the Lord
(c) to establish and administer the legal
aid fundArticle 19(1);
(d) to submit estimates of the sums required
to the Lord ChancellorArticle 19(7);
(e) to keep such accounts as the Lord Chancellor
with the approval of the Treasury directsArticle 20(1);
(f) to furnish auditors with copies of the
annual accountsArticle 20(2); and
(g) to make provision for pensions, allowances
or gratuities in respect of employees by the Law SocietyArticle
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
(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
(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.
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 RulesRule 4(1);
(b) in determining costs to take into account
all relevant circumstancesRule 4(3);
(c) to notify a solicitor or counsel of the
costs so determined and authorise payment accordinglyRule
(c) to redetermine costs if the solicitor
or counsel is dissatisfied with amount of costs allowedRule
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
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
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.
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.