Value for money in an age of austerity? Legal aid funding and the Legacy.
Today the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland (LSANI) published details of payments made to solicitors and barristers for publicly funded legal services in Northern Ireland. The Agency was established by the Minister of Justice on 1ST April 2015 upon the dissolution of the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission. The details of the payments cover the period between 1st April 2013 and 31st March 2014 and list the 100 suppliers in both branches of the legal profession in this jurisdiction in receipt of legal aid payments.
KRW LAW LLP welcomes the publication of this information by the Agency as it demonstrates a commitment by the Agency – and therefore most importantly to the people of Northern Ireland – to transparency and accountability.
As with any statistics reflecting the payment of public money to private suppliers of services – to the public – the data will be open to interpretation and become part of the agenda of those wishing to attack private suppliers of a public service. Legal aid is a public service, recognised on the founding of the welfare state and the provision of free or subsidised legal assistance. This is a cornerstone to a modern democracy founded on the principles of justice and the rule of law and protection of the rights of the individual. Thus sounds high minded in a period of austerity in juridisdciton but it should not be forgotten.
Those parts of the legal profession which are reliant upon legal aid to provide legal representation to those eligible for it (and the thresholds are high) for assistance in areas covered by the legal aid scheme (and the jurisdiction of the scheme is increasingly limited) are accountable to the LSANI which is an office of Department of Justice and therefore of the Northern Ireland Executive. In addition all members of the legal profession are accountable to the Law Society and the Bar Council. We are accountable to the judiciary – in Belfast, London, Strasbourg; we are accountable to the LSANI and we are accountable to our clients.
Without clients we would, in a very positive sense, be out of work. People would not need legal aid if they were not facing eviction from their social housing, or a reduction of a benefit or criminal prosecution because of shop lifting. For KRW LAW LLP we exist as a practice on legal aid for our criminal defence work. This may not be a popular cause but it is necessary in a fair criminal justice system and in a society confronting a heightened security threat. Most recently we have represented Michaella McCollum in her request for repatriation from Peru and by George Galloway MP in his dispute with Willie Frazer.
In addition KRW LAW LLP is a practice committed to contributing to resolving the Legacy of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. We will support proposals such as those under The Stormont House Agreement to create investigatory mechanisms to deliver truth, justice and accountability to all victims of the Conflict. These mechanism are not yet there and those which have been attempted are either defunct (HET) or willfully under resourced (OPONI, inquests). Clients instruct us in seeking answers to their questions often about the role of the state in the Conflict – collusion and impunity – and we use publically founded litigation to achieve answers.
We are instructed by The Hooded Men, by the families of those murdered in ‘Glenanne Series’, by some of the families of the McGurk’s Bar Bombing, in the Stalker Sampson series of Inquests in relation to Shoot to Kill allegations, on behalf the families in the Kingsmill Massacre including Alan Black who survived, by the families of those lost in the Claudy Bombing, by Winston Churchill Rea regarding the Boston College tapes, by some of the victims of abuse at the Kincora Boys’ Home, and most recently by some of the families who lost ones in Birmingham Pub Bombings 1974. We work with OPONI, the Coroners, the PSNI, the NGOs and community groups in offering a valuable service to the people of Northern Ireland still struggling with the Past and using legal aid to secure answers.
We are a substantial criminal defence, public and administrative law, and human right law practice in this jurisdiction with an extensive range of clients reflecting the legal aid statistics but offering value for money as our fees for file were in the bottom 10% of all providers listed.
KRW LAW LLP has 50 members, amongst are 34 law degrees, 17 Certificates in Professional Legal Studies, 9 Masters Degrees, 1 Ph.D., and 5 Certificates in Advanced Advocacy. We are a practice of 17 qualified solicitors all of whom are first generation lawyers, who approach our work on a vocational basis. They are supported by a team of Legal Executives and skilled Support staff to run a modern law firm cost effectively. We are nationally and internationally recognised for our expertise and commitment. It is this sort of context which is often lost when looking at figures; it is this sort of context that reflects the continued exceptional circumstances of our jurisdiction demanding the skills of committed lawyers.