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Criminal law: Legal aid denied to convict who fired lawyers

The Northern Ireland Department of Justice has confirmed that no legal aid will be provided to a prisoner who fired all his lawyers, after a ruling by the UK Court of Appeal, reports the BBC.

A man facing a prison sentence for wounding with intent has been told by the Court of Appeal that it is entirely appropriate that his trial judge ruled that he should not be permitted legal aid after he dismissed his legal team.

Raymond Brownlee from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was remanded in custody after attacking his partner, Elaine Hunter, in 2010.

Ms Hunter was left with bruises over 70% of her body after the horrific assault.

Mr Brownlee is also facing sentencing for charges of false imprisonment and making threats to kill.

Mr Brownlee dismissed his legal team after being found guilty, but later found that there were no barristers in Northern Ireland willing to take on his case.

This was due to a change in the way barristers are remunerated for serious crime cases, under a set of rules enacted in 2011.

The Crown Court Proceedings (Cost) (Amendment) Rules 2011 limits the amount that a barrister can charge for sentencing proceedings to £100 for the solicitor, £120 for a junior counsel and £240 for a senior counsel.

As Mr Brownlee's original trial lawyer is no longer able to represent him, he was left looking for new counsel under the prohibitive fees available under the 2011 rules, and every one has turned the case down due to the high volume of work for the small fees available.

Mr Brownlee challenged the application of the rule in the High Court, and won.

However, now the Court of Appeal has reversed that decision, accepting the Department of Justice's case that Mr Brownlee had been given every chance for a fair trial, but had chosen himself to sack his lawyers.

Ruling on the case, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said that he could envisage cases in future in which the rules are deemed unfair, when an accused loses their legal team through no fault of their own.

However, in this case the applicant had brought the problems upon himself.

"The material before us suggests that the accused dismissed his counsel and solicitors without any reasonable explanation at a late stage of his trial," said the judge.