A judge has said it is “completely unsatisfactory” that a firm of solicitors failed to turn up in court to represent a Chinese woman charged with her Northern Irish husband’s murder.
Suwei Shang is accused of stabbing her husband Damien Keenan to death in their home in Francis Street, Londonderry, on November 2 this year. They had been married just three months.
District Judge Barney McElholm called on a partner from Belfast law firm Finucane and Toner to appear before him in Londonderry Magistrate's Court next month to explain their absence from yesterday’s scheduled bail application.
The 38-year-old defendant appeared on a video link from Hydebank Prison, where she has been in custody since last month.
But when her legal representatives were called both inside and outside Courtroom 2 for her application, there was no response.
Speaking to the court through an interpreter, the defendant said her solicitor told her they would not be available for yesterday's application but that “they would be getting someone else to appear for her”.
The District Judge said if no-one was present to legally represent the defendant, the bail application could not continue.
“We cannot run the video link court to the whims of her defence solicitor,” he said.
He described the situtation as highly unsatisfactory. “The police are here, the defendant is available and I am available but there is no defence solicitor or defence counsel here,” said Mr McElholm.
When informed by a prosecutor that the defendant's legal advisers had said last week that no agreed bail address had yet been identified by them, Mr McElholm expressed his annoyance.
“The detective sergeant has taken time off to come to court and it is completely unsatisfactory for the defendant that her own solicitors are responsible for this,” he said.
The interpreter then told the court that the defendant had said “she is not sure what is happening”.
The District Judge adjourned the bail application until January 5, when he said he expected an apology and explanation from the law firm.
“On that date I want one of the partners here to explain and to apologise to the court why they were not here today,” he said.
A spokesman for Finucane and Toner said: "We were surprised to learn of the comments made by District Judge McElholm at Derry Magistrate's Court today. Upon learning of the comments Mr Finucane from our office attended Derry Court to address theissue. Our client had a bail application listed this morning and after consultation with her it was agreed that the application would not proceed today. The Public Prosecution Service were notified in writing on Friday 9th December 2011 of this development. We are concerned that the District Judge was not made aware of this and have contacted his office."