The recently published Access to Justice Report will play an important part in shaping policies on the future of justice in Northern Ireland.
That was the message from Justice Minister, David Ford today as he made the closing speech at the “Future of Access to Justice” conference jointly organised by the University of Ulster Law Clinic and the Law Centre Northern Ireland.
David Ford said: “Earlier this week, I launched a public consultation on the Access to Justice Review Part II. Today’s conference provides an opportunity to start the engagement process and I am keen to hear as many views as possible.
“Although the Report is not just about legal aid, it understandably does have much to say on the subject. We currently have a comprehensive – and very expensive – legal aid scheme and we need to redesign it if it is to be sustainable into the future. There is a need to balance difficult decisions about the allocation of resources with new or more effective ways of getting help with legal problems.”
The Minister continued: “Access to Justice, as the report itself recognises, is a wide concept going beyond access to lawyers and access to the courts. The report therefore is not just about the mechanics and funding of legal aid. As Minister for Justice, my goal is to ensure that all of the citizens of Northern Ireland, irrespective of their means, can secure access to justice.
“I therefore welcome the careful analysis in the report of the overarching framework for justice and dispute resolution.
“Importantly the Report points us in the direction of keeping disputes out of court. It reflects on alternatives to litigation including the role of the Ombudsman and modes of alternative dispute resolution. I particularly welcome the Report’s focus on mediation both in general and especially in family cases.”
The Minister went on to highlight other ongoing work to improve the justice system. He said: “As well as improving the performance of today’s justice system, I am also committed to introducing completely new approaches as well. I recently commissioned the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to undertake a case study on the potential for introducing ‘Problem-Solving Justice’ in Northern Ireland.”
Concluding the Minister said: “I think it is fair to say that while considerable progress has already been achieved in making the justice system work better for the citizens of Northern Ireland, this is really only the “end of the beginning” of an extensive programme of modernisation and reform.
I fully expect that the Report of the Access to Justice Review published this week will play an important part in shaping our policies on the future of justice in Northern Ireland during the next Assembly Mandate.”
David Ford encouraged responses to the consultation, which will last for a period 14 weeks and closes on 9 February 2016.
Notes to editors:
- View the Access to Justice Report
- All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.
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