Justice Minister David Ford has today published for consultation the Report of the Access to Justice Review Part II.
Commissioned last year to build on the reforms which have already been introduced, or are being taken forward, the Report makes some 150 wide-ranging recommendations aimed at reducing costs and improving the experience of those who come into contact with the justice system.
In an oral statement to the Assembly David Ford said: “In 2011 I published the first Access to Justice Review, which led to a comprehensive programme of work with three strategic objectives for reform: improving access to justice; bringing legal aid within budget; and improving governance. Much has been achieved in these areas in the intervening period.
“However, access to justice is a complex issue, and more needs to be done in order to maintain momentum. That is why I commissioned a follow-up report to identify further improvements to the system. There is a need to balance difficult decisions over the allocation of resources with new or more efficient and effective ways of delivering access, and ensuring that those who have the necessary means contribute to, or meet their own legal costs.”
Continuing the Minister said: “The Report I have now received is thought provoking and, in parts, challenging. It acknowledges that access to justice is a fundamental human right and that legal aid is an indispensable part of our justice system. However, it also recognises the pressures caused by the demand for legal aid, and the consequential need to identify measures to control expenditure.
“I will consider very carefully the comments made by those who respond to this consultation. However, I also want to ensure that the reforms already being progressed are not delayed during the consultation period. I will continue to take forward the development of a new standard fee approach for civil legal services, where the development of arrangements for family cases is at an advanced stage. In the longer term I will wish to reflect on the views that might be expressed in the consultation on the proposal for a wider remuneration strategy. I will also continue to take forward the introduction of new arrangements for money damages.
“The report has recommended some modest changes to the scope of legal aid. I have already consulted on some of these and I will reflect on the specific comments in the report as I take this work forward. However, in one key area it suggests that private family law should largely remain within scope, unlike the situation in England and Wales. I welcome this recommendation.
“Among the 150 recommendations, there are also a number on the structure and operation of the court system and ways of improving family justice procedures and practices. I will want to reflect on the responses to these elements of the Report and consult further with the Lord Chief Justice.”
In conclusion David Ford said: “As I have said before, fair and effective access to justice is an essential element of getting justice right. We currently have a comprehensive legal aid scheme and we need to get the balance right to ensure that it is affordable into the future and that the most vulnerable in society get the support that they need. I encourage stakeholders and the wider public to read this Report and engage with the consultation process.”
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 Report of the Access to Justice Review Part II
- 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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