Lawyers have warned the Northern Ireland Executive to preserve access to justice for injured people ‘above all else’ in its plans to scrap legal aid for money damages cases.
UK-wide not-for profit group the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) says it cannot see the rationale behind the plans, but urges ministers to focus on ensuring an appropriate alternative for injured people to enable them to fund legal cases.
“This is a money-saving exercise, even though currently the wrongdoer puts the costs back into the legal aid pot, not the taxpayer, so the logic behind these plans is perplexing,” said Martin Hanna, APIL’s Northern Ireland representative.
“But if legal aid is no longer to be available for injured people who need to make a claim for damages, then a ‘no-win no-fee’ system of funding is the best option to ensure ordinary people of ordinary means can still have access to justice,” he went on.
A ‘no-win no-fee’ approach to funding cases would mean the losing defendant pays the legal costs of a case, and is one of the suggestions made by the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland (DoJNI) for replacing legal aid in its recent consultation on the matter.
“Nobody asks to be injured, so the burden of pursuing justice should never lie with the victim,” said Martin. “And the justice system’s priority should be that victims can pursue the redress they need and to which they are entitled”.