Page last updated at 12:53 GMT, Tuesday, 31 May 2011 13:53 UK

Northern Ireland Assembly

Threats have been made to name prison staff on dissident republican websites, justice minister David Ford told MLAS, on 26 May 2011.

He was replying to a question from the SDLP's Colum Eastwood concerning the situation in the Roe House wing of Maghaberry prison where dissident republican prisoners have been in confrontation with the prison authorities.

Mr Ford was briefing members of the justice committee on the issues currently facing his department.

Alban Maginness of the SDLP said there had been trenchant criticism of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) in the report on the murder of the solicitor, Rosemary Nelson.

Mr Maginness wanted to know if the minister would consider the position of current employees of the justice department who had been working for the NIO at the time of the murder.

Mr Ford said the key issue for him was the performance of staff at the department of justice since it was devolved.

He added that he was not aware of anyone who was working for the NIO at the time who was now working for the department of justice.

Mr Ford likened the situation to the PSNI where the police force had been transformed.

The committee was than briefed by the minister and officials on the situation regarding legal aid costs since lower fees for lawyers had been introduced.

Mr Ford told committee members that a number of solicitors had withdrawn their services in legal-aid cases.

He said 63 firms had gone "off-record" in a total of114 cases.

Alban Maginess, who is a barrister, said the situation was a mess and this was partly due to the minister's decision to "push through" the changes in the final hours of the previous assembly.

The minister rejected this interpretation.

Departmental official David Lavery said that in a single year seven solicitors' firms had earned more than £1m in legal aid fees and two barristers each earned more than £1m in fees.

Justice committee membership


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