Belfast Telegraph

Terrorism-related cases in last five years cost the taxpayers almost £3m in legal aid

Almost £3m in legal aid has been paid out in terrorist-related cases in the last five years.
Almost £3m in legal aid has been paid out in terrorist-related cases in the last five years.
Leona O'Neill

By Leona O'Neill

Almost £3m in legal aid has been paid out in terrorist-related cases in the last five years.

Spending has increased rapidly in that time, figures show.

In the last year alone, expenditure totalled more than £900,000.

Legal aid is the system where the Government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford legal representation.

Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Belfast Telegraph show that in 2014/15 the Department of Justice paid out £18,947.

The following year the figure was 11 times more, sitting at £208,795.

In 2015/16 the figure sat at £388,595. In 2017/18 the figure was £1,151,565.

In the last year it had fallen slightly, but still totalled £901,562.

The department said payments did not represent the full costs of the associated certificates as cases are still ongoing and that one case may generate multiple legal aid certificates.

During the five-year time-frame 93 cases were dealt with at court, with 50 of those cases resulting in a conviction.

There were 263 legal aid certificates granted for terrorism-related charges and associated payments from 2014/15 to 2018/19.

Former QC Jim Allister explained that an individual could be tried next month but that legal aid would not be paid until the following year.

"It is good that terrorists are being put on trial. Legal aid comes with the territory," he said. "Part of the criteria of legal aid is the seriousness of the offences.

"So anyone who is going to be charged with a terrorist offence almost inevitably will get legal aid. And the more serious the offence, the more legal aid they would be entitled to.

"The fact that there is a hefty draw on legal aid also reflects the fact that there are terrorists being charged and those who are guilty convicted.

"So you can't just lament the fact there is a huge legal aid bill without taking into consideration to the fact there are people actually being prosecuted."

Mr Allister, the TUV leader, said despite the hefty bill, "terrorism can't be ignored".

"If there was no terrorism there would not be a £3m bill for the taxpayers," he said. "But if we have terrorists we can't ignore them. We have to try to convict them and that does come at this cost."

He added: "There are a huge number of crimes that are still unsolved and terrorists who got away with it.

"I would like to see them brought to justice. And if they are brought to justice, the process necessitates legal representation and legal aid.

"Cumulatively it comes to a lot of money, but it's money in that sense that is necessary if you are going to prosecute people."

DUP MP Gavin Robinson, a former barrister, said the huge legal aid bill reflects "the ongoing cycle of violence" in Northern Ireland.

"It's welcome that where terrorist-related incidents are on the increase, people are being brought before the courts," he said.

"The scale of legal aid payments presents a stark reminder of the number of incidents and ongoing cycle of destructive, sinister attempts to destroy the peace in Northern Ireland.

"The figures from 2017 also demonstrate the significant challenges in securing convictions. The public not only want people swiftly brought before the courts, they want justice."

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