§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether the legal aid changes which have been applied to England and Wales are to be extended to Northern Ireland in the same form.
§ The Lord Chancellor
The changes in civil legal aid eligibility which have been applied to England and Wales have largely been extended to Northern Ireland and in the same form.
Regulations for this purpose have been laid before Parliament. The regulations, which are subject to the negative resolution procedure, effect the following changes to the eligibility limits for civil legal aid, legal advice and assistance, and advice by way of representation:
- (a) lowering of the "free limit" for civil legal aid to income support levels;
- (b) reduction of dependants' allowances to income support levels;
- (c) additional provision for the disregard of benefits;
- (d) in civil legal aid and advice by way of representation cases, an increase in the maximum contribution from one-quarter to one-third of excess disposable income.
The four sets of Regulations which came into effect on 12th April 1993 are: the Legal Aid (Financial Conditions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 (SR 1993, No, 121); the Legal Aid (Assessment of Resources) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 (SR 1993, No. 122); the Legal Advice and Assistance (Financial Conditions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 (SR 1993, No. 123); and the Legal Advice and Assistance (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1993 (SR 1993, No. 124).
It is not possible, under the present enabling powers in Northern Ireland, for regulations to be brought forward immediately to give effect to two of the changes which have been made in England and Wales —namely, the extension of the payment of contributions over the lifetime of the case and the abolition of the contributory part of the legal advice and assistance scheme. Nevertheless I intend to bring forward legislation, as soon as a suitable opportunity arises, to enable the Northern Ireland civil legal aid eligibility criteria to be fully aligned with those in England and Wales.
In respect of criminal legal aid, the changes to eligibility limits which have been applied to England and Wales have not been enacted in Northern Ireland because at present criminal legal aid in the Province is not subject to prescribed financial limits and is non-contributory.