Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Bugged lawyer granted legal aid

A prominent Northern Ireland lawyer, accused of inciting murder and perverting the course of justice after he was bugged by police, has been granted public funds to fight his case.

Manmohan (Johny) Sandhu, who was charged after police secretly recorded conversations between him and his clients in a consultation room at the serious crime suite in Antrim police station as part of an ongoing investigation into serious crime, is due to appear before Belfast Crown Court tomorrow for arraignment.

The 43-year-old, who runs his own North West based legal practice — MS Sandhu & Co — has been granted legal aid to fight his case.

Earlier this year the Court Service and Legal Services Commission announced plans to crack down on the amount of legal aid being paid out in Northern Ireland after it emerged that the rise in legal aid expenditure in the province over the past decade is double the increase seen in England and Wales.

Legal aid in Northern Ireland currently costs more than £63.5m per annum with criminal legal aid costs £25.40m — about 40% of the budget.

The Telegraph contacted Sandhu's solicitor Paul Dougan from John J Rice Solicitors for a comment on the grounds for legal aid in this case. However, he has not made any response.

In order to be eligible for legal aid a defendant has to show they cannot pay for their case. When making a decision on whether legal aid should be granted a court may also consider, among other things, if a custodial sentence is possible upon conviction, there is a possibility of loss of livelihood or damage to reputation, or there is a substantial question of law to be argued. In Northern Ireland a large number of Crown Court cases are legal aid funded.

Sandhu is one of the province's highest profile solicitors having built up a prominent legal practice dealing mainly with criminal cases.

He recently defended Dessie Heaney who was found guilty of knifing Coleraine man Paddy Fleming to death in May 2006.

The Indian-born lawyer was arrested in February 2006 in connection with terror offences. The police case against him is that he was using his mobile phone to pass on information to members of the UVF during the group's bitter feud with the LVF.

He has been charged with incitement to murder, two counts of perverting the course of justice, two counts of doing an act with intent to pervert the course of justice and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Sandhu denies the charges.

At the time of his arrest Sandhu said: "It is a nightmare to be in the serious crime suite dealing with an arrest then being put on the other side," he said.

His arrest caused controversy because police had recorded confidential conversations between a solicitor and his client, prompting a complaint from the Law Society, to the Chief Constable and the Police Ombudsman.

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