Belfast Telegraph

Ex-millionaire Taggart brothers have two weeks to seek legal aid for bank battle

Former housebuilding tycoons Michael and John Taggart have two weeks to seek legal aid for their multi-million pound legal battle with the Ulster Bank, a High Court judge ruled today.

Mr Justice Burgess imposed the deadline on the brothers after being told they can no longer afford to pay for lawyers.

And with senior counsel for the bank expressing deep scepticism over their alleged financial plight, the judge wants to see copies of their legal aid applications.

He will then review the case at the start of October in an effort to ensure no long-term delay.

The brothers, once described as the richest businessmen in Ireland, are suing the Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct they claim contributed to the fall of their empire.

The Taggart Group was one of Northern Ireland's largest housebuilders, with operations in England and the Republic of Ireland.

But it collapsed during the property crash in 2008, costing creditors hundreds of millions of pounds.

In a counter claim, Ulster Bank has lodged writs for £5million and 4.3million euros it claims the brothers owe in personal guarantees.

A three-week hearing of the combined cases due to begin at the High Court yesterday was put on hold after it emerged that the Taggarts have dismissed their team of lawyers.

They requested an adjournment to allow them to seek legal aid, claiming it was no longer financially possible to keep paying barristers and solicitors.

Michael Taggart told the court how the case had "consumed" their lives for five years and cost in excess of £1 million.

If their legal aid application is turned down he and his brother intend to represent themselves as self-litigants.

The bank's barrister opposed the adjournment, claiming costs had nothing to do with their reason for dismissing their legal team.

Stephen Shaw QC alleged that it was the latest in a series of tactical manoeuvres by the Taggarts to avoid being exposed by the court.

Following the judge's decision to allow two weeks for the brothers to seek aid through the Legal Services Commission, Mr Shaw said those with a disposable annual income of more than £10,000 do not qualify.

"The bank does have information which could have importance for the Commission when it comes to consider decisions of eligibility," he said.

Armed with this material, Mr Shaw claimed it was "incredible to imagine someone in the Taggarts position" going through the legal aid process.

The case was adjourned until October 1.

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