Legal aid in spotlight after fraud trial halted

The role of legal aid has been brought into the spotlight once again after a serious fraud trial in England was brought to a halt because the defendants said they could not get representation as a result of legal aid cuts.

The case involves fraud involving over £5million which it is alleged was taken from UK investors by three companies. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) brought the case against 8 men, and it has been said that the case will be "complex and substantial", involving 46,030 pages of evidence and 864,000 lines of spreadsheet data.

At Southwark Crown Court the defendants said they contacted 70 barrister chambers. Only one barrister agreed to represent the men but then withdrew. There were concerns that the men would have to defend themselves, but the prosecutors said it would be a breach of their human rights. Judge Anthony Leonard was satisfied that the defendants had made "very substantial" efforts to find barristers to represent them, and said the legal process would be violated if the case was allowed to proceed.

The Ministry of Justice argue that "suitably qualified" advocates were available to take the case but Judge Leonard said the Public Defender Service (PDS) was unable to "provide sufficient representation".

Legal aid for complicated high-cost cases such as this one have been cut by 30 per cent. Barristers chose to cancel their contracts rather than accept the legal aid cuts and it is said that no barrister has signed a new contract to undertake very high-cost cases at the lower rates. Barristers and solicitors have called on the government to reconsider their approach to legal aid, saying sufficient funding is essential to ensure that both sides are represented adequately and fairly.

Legal aid is the provision of financial assistance to people who cannot otherwise afford legal representation, and it is considered to be essential to provide access to justice and to safeguard the right to counsel and to a fair trial.

If you require legal advice from a solicitor in Northern Ireland and may require legal aid to help fund your case, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast for advice and information by calling 028 9127 1035.

Or submit your details online for a callback by clicking here.