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Order for legal aid to convicted prisoner put on hold pending appeal

An order to provide effective legal aid to a convicted prisoner left without a barrister due to new payment rates has been put on hold pending a Department of Justice appeal.

Senior judges stayed the outcome of proceedings brought by Raymond Brownlee until the challenge is heard next month.

It means a sentencing hearing for the Belfast man found guilty of wounding with intent, threatening to kill and falsely imprisoning a woman is unlikely to go ahead next week as planned.

Previously a judge had raised the prospect of Brownlee avoiding jail, despite the serious crimes, because of the ongoing stalemate.

No barrister in Northern Ireland has been prepared to act for him for the fixed fees available under a revised scheme.

Rates of £240 and £120 on offer for senior and junior counsel to carry out the work were turned down by all lawyers approached.

The amended rules for fees in serious criminal cases were introduced in 2011 after a stand-off between defence lawyers and Justice Minister David Ford.

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Following a judicial review challenge by Brownlee the court held that the rules were inflexible and lacking provisions for exceptional circumstances.

No steps were taken to alter legal aid entitlements in his case, leading a High Court judge to order the Department to take all necessary steps to provide effective funding.

His ruling will now be subjected to a challenge in the Court of Appeal.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan confirmed today the order would be stayed until the hearing on June 5.

He acknowledged: "This is a matter of considerable importance to Mr Brownlee, that it is necessary for him to ensure he has access to justice, and it's of considerable importance to others within the criminal justice system so they are aware of their entitlement to access to justice.

"But in light of the steps that have to be taken by those instructed on behalf of Mr Brownlee it is not realistic that this case could be ready for a plea on May 17."
 


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