Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Murder accused may have to defend himself

In one of the most serious cases to be affected by the legal dispute, a man accused of a murder outside a Portstewart nightclub has been sent for trial without a legal defence team.

Francis Paul McCormick (32), of Cappaghmore Manor in Portstewart, is accused of killing 28-year-old Trevor Spiers on December 13, 2009.

Mr Spiers was injured in a fight outside the Havana nightclub, part of Shenanigans bar, on the Promenade as he tried to help a friend.

He died later in hospital from brain injuries.

McCormick faces a charge of murder as well as charges of assaulting another man occasioning him actual bodily harm and causing an affray.

During a hearing at Coleraine Magistrate's Court this week McCormick's solicitor withdrew from the case in protest at reduced legal aid fees introduced by David Ford in April.

After hearing that McCormick had been unable to attain the services of another solicitor, the district judge said he had no other option but to return him for trial.

His trial is due to begin on September 1 and unless McCormick can find a solicitor he will be forced to represent himself.

McCormick is one of almost 400 crime suspects currently left without any legal representation after their solicitors withdrew their services in a dispute over the controversial new legal aid pay rates.

Members of the legal profession say they cannot afford to properly represent their clients under the reduced fees, which they claim amount to an average pay cut of over 50%.

Justice Minister David Ford, who is trying to slash Northern Ireland's legal aid bill from £100m to £75m over three years, has said that he cannot afford to pay lawyers the fees that they want.

Last month lawyers were accused of exploiting the legal aid system after a damning Audit Office report said the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (NILSC), which hands out legal aid, lacked proper controls to check whether claims made by solicitors were accurate.

The report said that since 2003 NILSC has spent £340m on criminal legal aid.

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