Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Evil killers' legal aid bill will sicken many

Editor's Viewpoint

Local man William McFall, by any definition, is a vicious double killer. In May 1996 he callously beat pensioner Martha Gilmore to death with a hammer when she disturbed him breaking into her Greenisland home. Jailed for life, he was released in 2010.

Just seven years later he killed Vietnamese mother-of-two Quyen Ngoc Nguyen in England.

She was raped by his accomplice Stephen Unwin, tortured to disclose her bank PIN numbers, robbed, beaten and dumped in her car, which was set alight while she was still alive.

Unwin is also a double killer. They met in prison while serving sentences for their original murders.

The pair have been told that they will never be released, but many people will wonder, given the horrific nature of their first slayings, how they got out after 13 years only to kill again.

And what will cause even more outrage among the public is the fact that the total legal aid bill for both is likely to approach £250,000.

It is one of the fundamental planks of the criminal justice system that legal aid is there to fund all or part of the defence bill for people without the money to pay their own way.

Of course, it is right that anyone facing charges which could result in them losing their liberty should be defended by legal experts, including senior counsel, depending on the gravity and complexity of the case.

Yet, from reports, this appeared to be a fairly straightforward case, and some people may wonder if in such circumstances there are not ways to make savings by ensuring that representation is always appropriate to the needs of those in the dock.

They will point out that those bereaved by the Omagh bombing, for example, were only able to get legal aid to be represented at an inquest into the deaths through an exceptional intervention by the Lord Chancellor.

And, as Sir Jeffrey Donaldson points out today, the families of four soldiers killed in London's Hyde Park by an IRA bomb had to campaign to get legal aid to bring a civil case against one of the alleged bombers.

Many will sympathise with his call for a review of the legal aid system. Can it be made fairer in allowing victims or their families access to legal representation at all stages of the justice system, and not simply be an open purse for those who commit the most heinous of crimes?

Belfast Telegraph

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