Belfast Telegraph

Barrister Stephen Law refuses fraud case as legal aid row bites in Northern Ireland courts

By Paul Higgins

An experienced barrister has warned that he "will not be in a position" to take on Crown Court case involving a woman accused of benefit fraud.

Defence barrister Stephen Law was speaking at Ballymena Magistrates Court after 39-year-old Kelly Ann Wilson was ordered to stand trial on three counts of benefit fraud.

It came the day after members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) voted to refuse to accept Crown Court cases under new, reduced legal aid fees from the Department of Justice.

Wilson, from Millfield in Ballymena, is facing three counts of failing to disclose information affecting her entitlement to claim various benefits between December 2011 and June 2013.

Mr Law told District Judge Des Perry: "I would like to make clear in light of the stated position of the CBA that I will not be in a position to accept, at this juncture, papers in the Crown Court and wish formally to raise my concerns that this matter may or may not be dealt with in light of the ongoing difficulties expressed by the CBA."

Deciding to grant legal aid for a defence barrister at the higher court, the judge said while that "may not be taken up... the alternative is that there will be a degree of limbo if things do resolve".

Wilson was bailed to appear before Antrim Crown Court for arraignment on June 25.

CBA chairman Gavan Duffy QC has said the cuts in fees, anywhere between 45-65%, "will inevitably dilute the quality of representation available to some of the most vulnerable members of society and to the victims of crime".

Belfast Telegraph

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