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Legal aid dispute causes solicitors to drop 134 cases

A dispute over legal aid fees, is threatening to halt Northern Ireland's justice system, and could lead to cases collapsing and being dismissed.

The warning came after it emerged that solicitors had withdrawn their services from 134 criminal cases in a six-week period.

This has created genuine fears that the dispute will create a crippling backlog, which could lead to cases falling apart.

Many solicitors' firms are refusing to work on criminal cases because they will not accept new lower rates of pay introduced in March.

The reduced fees have been proposed by Justice Minister David Ford in an effort to slash Northern Ireland's huge annual legal aid bill.

It has emerged that in the six weeks to the end of May 2011, solicitors had withdrawn their services in 134 cases.

David Ford has stated that if necessary courts could go outside Northern Ireland to bring in other lawyers from the Republic and England

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