The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has called for an investigation into how Legal Aid is allocated in Northern Ireland, after being told that Gerry Adams would now be receiving legal aid for his Supreme Court case regarding his Maze escape bids, after previously being told in May 2020 that he would not.
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“As our legal aid budget - qualified each year due to fraud and error - continues to spiral out of control, serious questions need to be asked how the qualifying criteria are met. This comes as I received an update to a Freedom of Information request response about how much Gerry Adams received in legal aid.
“In the initial response the Legal Services Agency (LSA) Northern Ireland stated that Gerry Adams had received just over £106K of legal aid for the case put before the court of Appeal, and that the case brought before the Supreme Court would not be met through legal aid. Now, in a complete reversal of the response, the LSA have stated to me that Mr Adams will have his Supreme Court costs met from the Legal Aid Bill and that as yet that cost is ‘unknown.’
“Nobody is denying anyone who is entitled to Legal aid from receiving legal aid but having experience of constituents including Domestic Abuse Victims, those in family court proceedings and victims of crime denied legal aid, it is very difficult to understand how anyone with Mr Adams means could qualify. Again, that is not to say he does not, but it is to say there needs to be a better understanding of the legal aid system to ensure it supports those it is actually intended to support.
“I have raised the issue of the Northern Ireland legal aid bill on many occasions. I cannot understand why by head of population, the Northern Ireland legal aid bill is three times that of Scotland, and I cannot accept that since the devolution of Policing and Justice the Northern Ireland accounts have been continually qualified due to fraud and error. Further examination shows that a small group of law firms seems to benefit from legal aid disproportionately and find it very lucrative.
“There needs to be a deep dive into the Northern Ireland legal aid system to ensure that those who need it and are entitled to it, are the ones who actually receive it.”