Legal Aid In Criminal Matters
The current rates at which legal fees are paid by the Government to lawyers who represent Legally aided clients were set in 1981 and have not 'been reviewed or increased since that year, The Bar Council has taken the view that, in consequence, fees have fallen below the level that constitute a proper professional fee. The Government accepts that, with the passage of years and inflation since 1981, the level of fees is no longer appropriate.
In October 1999 a resolution was passed by the Bar Council declaring that the level of fees did not constitute a proper professional fee. The effect of this resolution was to make it possible for lawyers to turn down legal aid cases without breaching the rules of the legal profession contained in the Code of Conduct of the Bar.
This development, in turn, had the effect that legally aided defendants are experiencing increasing, and in some cases serious, difficulty in obtaining legal representation. This situation is unacceptable.
To provide immediate relief of this problem the Government will, this Thursday, publish an amended schedule to the Legal Aid Fees Rules, establishing new rates of legal fees. For the first time, the rules will make provision for the payment of fees for time spent by lawyers preparing for the conduct of a case.
The Government is committed to a fundamental review of the legal aid system as a whole. It is very important that people of reduced financial means should not be deprived of proper access to justice. On the other hand, the system should not constitute an unaffordable drain on public funds, as is now the case in the UK where the system is being reassessed. The new fee rates are therefore an interim measure pending the full review of the whale legal aid system.