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Access to justice under threat in Northern Ireland personal injury cases

Injured people who cannot afford to pay for a lawyer will be denied justice if legal aid is abolished for personal injury cases in Northern Ireland, campaign group APIL has warned.

The not-for-profit organisation has told the Department of Justice, which is reviewing the Northern Irish civil legal aid system, that retaining access to legal aid in personal injury cases is essential.

“To create a system in which injured people with limited financial means have no access to legal aid support would be socially unjust,” said Oonagh McClure, APIL’s executive committee representative for Northern Ireland.

“Everyone should have access to legal redress if they are seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence. In NI we should never have a legal system which is only accessible by the wealthy. A justice system accessible by everyone is the cornerstone of a fair and just society,” she said.

“It is unacceptable that a person with enough money to fund a claim can bring legal proceedings to ensure that the person who has injured them is held to account, whilst people less well off are left with their injuries, and no hope of compensation. Their injuries are equally devastating and equally deserving. For those with limited financial means the consequences of being unable to work as a result of an injury can be much more significant and can impact upon some of the most vulnerable in society,” she added.

“Data that APIL has obtained shows there is a success rate of 73 per cent in legally aided personal injury cases and the cost of personal injury claims to the legal aid fund amounts to just three per cent of the annual budget for civil legal aid in Northern Ireland. This proves the system in NI works well and efficiently, and should remain,” said Oonagh.

APIL says if legal aid were to be removed in personal injury cases, then a workable alternative funding system must be put in place at the same time.