Dickson seeks meeting over failure to address legal aid bill

Alliance Justice spokesperson Stewart Dickson MLA has said he will seek a meeting with the Department of Justice after a new report raised concerns about the failure to address the rising legal aid bill in Northern Ireland.

Mr Dickson was speaking as the Northern Ireland Audit Office report into the 2018-19 accounts of Government Departments and other public sector bodies was released. Results show legal aid expenditure rose from £68.8 million the previous year to £84.3 now, with an estimated £5.9 million being overpaid in 2018-19 due to fraud or error.

“These are concerning figures and I will be seeking a meeting with the Department of Justice to discuss the issues raised by this report,” said Mr Dickson.

“Former Justice Minister David Ford attempted to reform legal aid here while in office, and indeed this situation would be much worse if he had not taken action when he did. Unfortunately, the lack of an Assembly means there is currently no Justice Committee to scrutinise the Department and any Minister, helping to ensure legal aid helped those in greatest need.

“We need to protect the principle that people should have access to justice and assistance with their legal problems, but doing so while reducing the currently unsustainable legal aid budget.”