Belfast Telegraph

Case adjourned as barrister ‘unaware’ of legal aid row walks

By Deborah McAleese

The first criminal case to secure a defence team amid a bitter legal dispute has been stalled after the suspect’s barrister decided to withdraw his services.

In what should have been the first Crown Court case in two months to progress under new controversial pay rates, the judge was yesterday forced to permit an adjournment to give the defendant’s solicitor time to find another barrister after lawyers walked away in protest.

The alleged drug dealer’s solicitor, Gary Bell, was the first lawyer in Northern Ireland to break ranks and agree to work under controversial new legal aid payments.

Almost 240 crime suspects are currently without legal representation after their solicitors withdrew from their cases in protest at the new pay rates. They said they could not afford to properly defend their clients for the new rates, which amount to pay cuts of more than 50% in some cases.

Mr Bell, of Antrim firm DG Bell Solicitors, was the first solicitor to declare publicly that he would take cases under the new fees and secured the services of Dublin-based barrister Donal Farrell, after barristers in Northern Ireland refused to take on cases from solicitors breaking ranks.

However, at Newry Crown Court yesterday, the court was told that one week after coming on record in the case, Mr Farrell has now withdrawn his services.

Last week concern was raised in court about how Mr Farell intended to defend the case after it was alleged that he had not read any of the case papers.

His withdrawal comes a day after Mr Bell lodged complaints with the Law Society and the Justice Minister claiming he had been the victim of a “smear campaign” ever since he agreed to work under the new pay structure.

Mr Bell has now decided not to take on any new Crown Court cases affected by the dispute.

Mr Farrell would not comment on the reasons for his withdrawal from the case, saying he had a duty of confidentiality to the defendant. It is understood, however, that he has told fellow lawyers he was “unaware” of any pay dispute between the legal profession and David Ford.

In court yesterday Gary Bell identified himself to the court and said he was representing the defendant, David Ian Peter McKenna (22), of Newry Street in Markethill.

He asked the court for an adjournment to enable him time to attempt to instruct another barrister.

Judge Kevin Finnegan agreed and McKenna, who faces a total of eight charges including possession of a class B drug, being concerned with its supply, and assaulting and resisting police, was remanded in custody.

Background

Almost 240 crime suspects have been left without legal representation after their solicitors withdrew from their cases in protest at controversial new legal aid fees introduced by the Justice Minister. In a bid to break the two-month deadlock in the courts David Ford has attempted to assemble a group of solicitors and barristers willing to work under the new pay rates. Only a handful have agreed.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph