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Defendants left unrepresented as more solicitors join boycott

In what will be a major blow to David Ford’s attempts to kickstart a courts system crippled by the legal dispute, five solicitors’ firms that had agreed to break ranks have decided to retract their services.

The Justice Minister wrote to 500 Northern Ireland legal practices in a bid to assemble a group of firms prepared to take on Crown Court cases under the new reduced legal aid fees that he introduced in April. On Monday a list of 18 firms willing to do the work was made available for suspects who have been unable to find a lawyer after the majority of legal practices withdrew from the cases in protest.

However, it emerged last night that five of the firms on the list — McAlinden & Rafferty Solicitors, Nicola Bell Solicitors, Orr & Co Solicitors, Stephen Perrott & Co Solicitors and Wylie & Co Solicitors — have contacted the Courts Service advising it they wish to be removed.

One new firm has since advised the Courts Service it is prepared to take on the cases, meaning that 14 legal firms are currently available to offer a defence to 236 unrepresented defendants. The dispute is causing a massive backlog in Crown Courts across Northern Ireland with cases unable to proceed because the defendant cannot find a solicitor. Some defendants may be forced to represent themselves at trial.

In Newry Crown Court yesterday a man accused of a violent assault told the judge that he has been unable to find a lawyer to represent him. The judge agreed to adjourn the case until September telling David Rodger Hanna (26), of Brookdale, Banbridge, that he will give him some time to find a solicitor.

In Belfast Crown Court on Tuesday an alleged robber, William Patterson (20), was forced to apply for bail himself. His application was successful and he was freed under strict conditions.

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