40 lawyers break ranks to take on abandoned cases
Around 40 lawyers have agreed to break ranks over the legal aid pay dispute and take up criminal cases left unrepresented by legal firms involved in the wrangle with Justice Minister David Ford.
The first solicitors' firm to break ranks appeared in court yesterday to defend a suspected drug dealer.
After almost two months of deadlock in Crown Court cases due to strike action by lawyers, a solicitor from David G Bell Solicitors and a barrister from Dublin appeared in court on behalf of the defendant - one of around 200 suspects left without representation because of the dispute.
The case had to be adjourned, however, when a prosecuting barrister raised concern that the defendant's legal team intended to proceed despite not having read all the papers in the case.
Defence barrister Donal Farrell admitted to Judge Kevin Finnegan QC that he had not read the papers, moments after saying he was ready to have his client arraigned on the charges. Judge Finnegan ordered an adjournment and handed a copy of his papers to the defence team, telling them to consult with the suspect, David Ian Peter McKenna (22), of Newry Street, Markethill.
Solicitors across Northern Ireland have withdrawn from more than 150 Crown Court cases saying they cannot properly represent clients with the pay cuts.
David G Bell Solicitors in Antrim, which specialises in road accident claims, is one of at least 40 practitioners to respond to a call from the Justice Minister to take on the work.
Solicitor Gary Bell, from David G Bell, said his firm took the decision to take on the unrepresented work because defendants have a right to legal representation.
Lawyers across Northern Ireland are in dispute with the Justice Minister over cuts to their legal aid payments. They say the new payments are uneconomical and make it difficult for them to properly represent clients. David Ford says, however, that they earn more than lawyers in England and Wales and that he cannot afford to pay them more.