Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Solicitor jailed for inciting murder

Solicitor Johnny Sandhu at Belfast Laganside Court

A solicitor caught inciting murder when police bugged his conversations with a suspected terrorist client inside a police station was jailed for 10 years today.

Manmohan "Johnny" Sandhu, 44, from Colby Street, Londonderry, had changed his plea to guilty of inciting loyalist paramilitaries for murder on the third day of his trial last week.

The Indian-born lawyer also pleaded guilty to three counts of perverting the course of justice and another of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

He was given three years on each count, to run concurrently with a ten-year sentence.

The lawyer stood head bowed in the dock at Belfast Crown Court when the Judge Mr Justice Deeny told him: "It was a wicked thing to incite men of violence to murder an innocent man.

"This was all the more so when you were a solicitor and he was already a victim and a potential witness in a forthcoming trial.

"Such conduct must be deserving of a severe sentence."

The judge said: "There was a very grave breach of trust by the accused as a solicitor to the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland given privileged access to his clients in a police station."

He added: "That abusive trust took place not on a single occasion but on a number of occasions over a period of months in 2005."

The Law Society swiftly suspended Sandhu after he pleaded guilty.

The judge said they would now have to consider his future membership of the profession in accordance with laid-down procedures.

But he said: "It seems to me quite unrealistic to expect that a man who has offended in this way could possibly be allowed to practice as a solicitor again."

Sandhu was arrested in January 2006 on the basis of his taped conversations with loyalist paramilitary clients at the serious crime suite in Antrim police station during 2005 and 2006.

He denied the charges and fought to prevent the evidence being used against him until his trial last week when, on day three of what was expected to be a six-week trial, he pleaded guilty.

The charges against Sandhu, who arrived in Northern Ireland with his parents from India at the age of four, arose from the attempted murder of a taxi driver and the murders of two men during a power struggle between the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force and Loyalist Volunteer Force in 2005.

As well as incitement to murder, he was accused of attempting to frustrate police investigations into the UVF murders of Jameson Lockhart and Andrew Cully and using his role as a solicitor to keep members of a terrorist organisation informed of the progress of police investigations.

Police used powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to record the lawyer-client conversations.

The use of the law was challenged as far as the House of Lords which ruled in March that it did allow for the surveillance of privileged communications.

It was the first such conviction of a lawyer in Northern Ireland and Mr Justice Deeny said: "The needs of an orderly and civilised society demands that persons charged with serious criminal offences should be able to avail of legal advice.

"The public have an interest in the acquittal of the innocent as well as the conviction of the guilty.

"On foot of such a need, the legislature and the courts have enshrined the rights of suspects to consult with their solicitors in these circumstances.

"It is a pernicious and dangerous abuse of that right for a solicitor to go beyond the role of legal adviser in the way that this accused has done.

"It is a grave breach of trust. Reading the interviews the picture is not that of an officer of the court discharging his duty to his client but of an enthusiastic gang member."

The Law Society of Northern Ireland said Sandhu's actions were a betrayal of his profession.

Society president Barry Finlay said: "The profession regards Mr Manmohan Sandhu's behaviour as totally deplorable. This morning's sentence is entirely appropriate and reflects the gravity of his offences.

"Every solicitor's duty is to uncompromisingly uphold the rule of law. Mr Sandhu has betrayed his duty to do so and in so doing he has betrayed his profession and his professional colleagues.

"On the same day that Mr Sandhu pleaded guilty last week, the Law Society met in emergency special council, suspended him from practice forthwith and resolved to refer him to the independent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for further action."

Meanwhile, the Public Prosecution Service said the conviction of the solicitor had raised important issues with regard to legal professional privilege.

Pamela Atchison, a senior lawyer with the PPS, said the right of a person detained in police custody to consult privately with a solicitor was an important safeguard which was recognised in domestic law and European jurisprudence.

Such consultations were usually subject to legal professional privilege - meaning their content could not be used as evidence in any criminal prosecution against either solicitor or his client, she said.

However, she added: "Legal professional privilege does not include communications which are made for the purpose of obtaining advice on the commission of a future crime, or communications which are part of a crime."

The prosecution case in relation to Sandhu were based on evidence obtained from consultations between him and his clients which were covertly recorded by police, she said.

"In taking the decision to prosecute, the PPS was satisfied that investigating police had sought authorisations to monitor Sandhu's consultations.

"The content of the consultations in respect of which Sandhu was prosecuted and pleaded guilty was by nature criminal and therefore not capable of attracting legal professional privilege."

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