Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland General Consumer Council


  The Council made a major submission on the future of Legal Aid in the Autumn of 1999 in response to the consultation paper "Public Benefit and the Public Purse". A copy is attached.[13] The Lord Chancellor's decisions were published last autumn under the heading "The Away Ahead Legal Aid Reform in Northern Ireland".

  In general, the Council welcomes the establishment of the Legal Services Commission and the decision to have three separate budgets. Our submission to the Civil Justice Review Group set out further details on our views on the governance of such a Commission.

  The Lord Chancellor has decided on a funding code. The Council strongly recommends that it should be as simple and practical as possible.

  In our original submission, the Council set out several important reservations about the possibility of introducing conditional fees. We have now looked at the new proposal for a Contingency Legal Aid Fund. Our preliminary view is that it offers advantages to consumers. However, for such a scheme to be successful it must work effectively, therefore other arrangements and decisions must have regard to this. In particular we would be very cautious about the idea of setting up an independent body to run such a fund since it would most likely add to the cost.

  We believe that, in order to deter frivolous claims, it is reasonable for litigants to pay a registration fee operated in such a way that the level is appropriate to all. The registration fee should be deducted from the payment to be made following a successful case.

  The criteria to be used to determine whether a case gets funding should take into account wider considerations such as those proposed for legal aid in the decisions paper. The Council also considers that, in order to ensure the success of any CLAF and thus increase access to justice, a substantial percentage of damages—say between 10 per cent and 15 per cent—should be paid into the Fund following a successful outcome.

13 February 2001

13   See the list of unprinted papers, p. xvi. Back

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