Page last updated at 06:10 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 07:10 UK

Lawyers face legal aid fees cut

Vincent Kearney
Home affairs correspondent

Back of barrister wearing a wig
Barristers said they may strike if their fees are cut

Fees paid to many top barristers and solicitors in Northern Ireland may be cut when new measures are introduced next year.

The Court Service wants to reduce the £90m annual bill for legal aid, when the government pays legal fees for people who cannot afford them.

Barristers said they may strike over the move.

The £90m annual legal aid bill for Northern Ireland works out at more than £28 for every person who lives here.

Most of the money - more than 60% - is spent on criminal cases.

The Court Service said the fees cannot be justified and is taking action to reduce the bill.

It has already introduced lower rates for legal teams involved in what are termed very high cost cases - that is, the most complex cases.

The cost for this category for the year 2007-08 was more than £6m, with some senior barristers earning up to £180 an hour.

Two further measures will be introduced next February.

There will be a reduction in the fees paid in all Crown Court cases, and new rules will reduce the number of barristers involved.

At the moment, defence teams use two barristers in more than half of Crown Court cases, while the figure for England and Wales is just 5%.

The Court Service said the new system would save around £7.5m a year.

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