Firm withdraws services from murder suspect due to legal aid dispute

Judge says dispute will cause ‘significant problems for the administration of justice’

One of Northern Ireland’s largest law firms has withdrawn its professional services in the case of a woman due to stand trial for murdering her partner.

Solicitor Gerard McMurray for KRW Law told Belfast Crown Court on Thursday that his company was "coming off" in the case of Angeline Sara Jane Mitchell in a dispute over cuts to legal aid payments.

The 43-year-old is accused of murdering her partner Tony Robin at his Fitzoy Avenue home off Belfast's Ormeau Road in May 2009.

During a bail application on Thursday, her solicitor told Mr Justice Weir that the Legal Services Commission had ruled that an application for legal aid in the case would be remunerated under new 2015 rules introduced recently.


Under the new Department of Justice rules, Minister David Ford has announced a further 20 per cent cut in the legal aid budget.

Mr McMurry told the court that under the new legal aid rules his firm “did not believe that this is a fair remuneration to discharge our professional duties in relation to all cases”.

He added the stance taken by KRW Law was supported by the Criminal Bar Association who announced earlier this week that barristers would not be taking on new cases under the new 2015 legal aid rules.

“My application is to come off record in this case,” added Mr McMurray.

Mr Justice Weir replied: “I don’t want to say anything about this dispute that exists. All I will say is that I am aware of it.

“It is going to cause significant problems for the administration of justice. As far as your application is concerned I grant it.”

However, the judge said that all solicitors should check the position of a case before applying for legal aid.

As Ms Mitchell no longer had legal representation, Mr Justice Weir invited her to come forward from the dock and sit in solicitor's benches flanked by two prison officers.

A Crown lawyer said that police had one objection to her being released on bail and it was the concern that she may resume her consumption of alcohol and illegal substances.

However, he said that if the court was minded to grant bail, the Crown would be seeking stringent conditions surrounding her release from custody.

Asked by Judge Weir that if he granted her bail that she “wouldn’t fall off the wagon”, Ms Mitchell replied: “No, I won’t.”

The judge said he would grant bail but only under strict conditions.

Mitchell was banned from consuming alcohol, banned from taking drugs “other than those prescribed drugs which had her name on a box’, and barred from entering licensed premises or supermarkets where alcohol was served.

Mr Justice Weir said that she would be electronically tagged, ordered her to abide by a 6pm to 6am curfew, report to police three times a week and live at an address outside of Belfast.

The judge set her own bail of £500 and two sureties each of £900.

“Once your bail is perfected, you will be released from custody,” said Mr Justice Weir, adding that she would need to find a solicitor who was willing to take on her case.

Ms Mitchell is due to stand trial for murder on September 14th this year.