Report calls for curb on NI barristers' costs

29 June 2011

29 June 2011 | Adam Leach

A lack of transparency and competitive tendering has led to expenditure on barristers’ services spiralling out of control, according to a report by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).

The CriminalJustice Inspection report, published yesterday, has called for action to improve value for money for legal services purchased by the public purse in Northern Ireland.

While the report noted that the use of competitive tendering for solicitors’ services was on the increase, it found a distinct lack of a robust and competitive procurement process when it came to barristers.

In 2010, the Northern Ireland government spent £2.34 million on the direct procurement of barristers and solicitors for legal casework. The report found that no competitive tendering was in place and barristers were selected from a panel of providers that did not take account of price variety. It also found that private sector solicitors rather than public sector procurement staff usually selected barristers for publicly funded cases.

Chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Dr Michael Maguire, said:

“The purchasing of legal services lacks the discipline used and expected for other professional services. Many justice organisations were unaware of the actual costs until completion of the work and this can exceed the original estimates. This practice is generally considered unacceptable in other commercial environments, where the supplier of a service would be expected to provide an estimate of the costs of service provision and to justify and explain variations from these estimates.”

The report said the Department of Justice should ‘align itself’ with the government’s Central Procurement Directorate (CPD) over the purchase of these services and should take advice from the CPD and Department of Finance and Personnel. It also recommended the cost of legal services be determined at the start of an assignment and criminal justice organisations collectively review the use of legal services to include benchmarking.

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