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Killer's legal aid bill outrageous

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 25/09/2015

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

Members of the public find it difficult to understand the range, complexity and sheer size of our legal aid bills, but the case involving a man who abused and beat a toddler to death defies any logical explanation.

Barry McCarney battered little Millie Martin in a dastardly crime that shocked people throughout Northern Ireland and further afield.

McCarney never admitted his guilt, so the case went to full trial, when he was convicted unanimously by a jury.

By that stage he had received a staggering £320,000 in legal aid.

But his bill has increased by another £150,000 for legal aid to fund his unsuccessful appeal.

This brings McCarney's bill to almost £470,000, and when further legal costs are added in, the total could rise to around £500,000.

Lord Morrow, whose Assembly question led to the disclosure of the fees by the Justice Minister, has rightly said that these huge costs are unacceptable.

McCarney resolutely refused to give evidence, and Lord Morrow is correct to note: "I cannot fathom how McCarney can proffer a defence when he refuses, or is advised, not to enter the witness box."

McCarney's legal team is considering asking the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to examine the case.

The public is unable to fathom the intricacies of such matters, including the fact that once a case is set in motion, it may go all the way, inevitably, to the European Courts.

The public is also entitled to query why the case of a man who was convicted unanimously and who lost his appeal may yet go to Strasbourg on a point of law.

In general, it is right that legal aid exists to help those most in need of it.

But there seems little recognition of the cost to the public purse once these cases start rolling.

The public is entitled to query the huge costs of legal fees, and also to look askance at the protests from the legal profession if any attempt is made to bring some common sense into a system which seems to generate such costs.

The public is entitled to feel that the McCarney case is distressing, but that the legal aid costs are also totally outrageous.

Belfast Telegraph

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