Clause 43

Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 18th January 2007.

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Free legal aid in magistrates’ courts

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

I hope not to detain the Committee too long. However, it might be helpful to its members, or at least to my hon. Friend the Minister, if I briefly speak about the legal aid provisions.

The purpose of clause 43 is to provide resident magistrates—a reference I will use for the benefit of discussing this clause only—with maximum flexibility in granting publicly funded legal representation. The current situation is that a person charged with a scheduled offence before the magistrates court must apply to the High Court for bail. The legal aid available for that High Court application is entirely separate from the legally aided representation assigned to the accused by the court for the preparation of his defence.

Under the clause, all defendants in custody will be able to apply at the earliest opportunity to the magistrates court for bail. Their bail application with therefore be made under the legislation governing publicly funded representation at magistrates court level. The will allow the resident magistrates to target publicly funded legal aid towards the specific legal need of those legally aided defendants. For example, if a resident magistrate took the view that counsel would not be required for the duration of the magistrates court proceedings, but that the accused might benefit from advice for the purposes of, say, a bail application, the clause would allow that.

It may be useful to make it clear that the clause is not to do with restricting legal aid for any financial reason. The intention is to make matters simpler and clearer for both the defendant and the magistrate concerning the application of legal aid. On that basis, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.