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Legal Aid and Coroners’ Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 2014


11.The proposal for the change in status of the Commission was subject to public consultation when the Access to Justice Report was published in July 2012. There were no objections in principle. In May 2013, the Department consulted further on the safeguards that it intends to put in place to protect the independence of individual decisions on the grant of civil legal aid. The responses to the proposed safeguards consultation were in general positive, though a number raised concerns about the proposed appeals mechanism. In response, the Minister has replaced the proposal that appeals would be heard by one person, with a procedure whereby appeals will be heard by a panel of three, at least one of whom will be a practising lawyer. This addresses the key points raised.

12.The Assembly’s Committee for Justice was briefed on the responses to the consultation on the Access to Justice Review in June 2012. It was further briefed on responses to the consultation on the safeguards to protect individual decisions on the granting of civil legal aid and the proposed way forward on the change of status of the Commission on 20 June 2013. The Committee confirmed that it was content that the Commission should become an Executive Agency within the Department and that the Chief Executive should be a statutory appointment. The Committee also noted that the changes would be taken forward in a new Act.

13.In the normal manner, the 2003 Order was subject to an extensive programme of consultation when it was being brought forward. That process included consideration by an ad hoc Committee of the Assembly in 2002. The policy underpinning civil legal services has already been the subject of extensive consultation by the Legal Services Commission since 2007 and more recently the Department of Justice. The views expressed throughout this history of consultation have continued to inform our decision-making. Going forward, the subordinate legislation required to implement civil legal services will be the subject of further scrutiny by the Assembly, including the Justice Committee. Some of the subordinate legislation will also involve the Assembly’s affirmative resolution procedure.

14.It was not considered necessary to consult publicly on the proposed change to the role of the Lord Chief Justice, due to its technical and specialist nature. A targeted consultation with the Coroners was carried out and the Justice Committee was made aware of the proposal by way of letter dated 12 June 2013.

15.The various consultation documents and summaries of responses on all of the closed consultations can be accessed separately at or individually as now listed.

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