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Revealed: The multi-million pound legal aid bill for Armagh, Craigavon and Newry courts

Armagh Courthouse

Over £6.3 million was authorised on legal aid payments to cover court proceedings in Armagh, Craigavon and Newry in just one year.

And the majority of the payments throughout 2017 – granted to those deemed unable to meet their own legal costs –  were for cases being heard in Craigavon.

Figures obtained by Armagh I under a Freedom of Information request reveal just how much has been paid out to people appearing before magistrate, crown and county court appeal sittings in these three jurisdictions.

The lion’s share was authorised for those facing criminal proceedings at Craigavon Courthouse.

According to figures from Legal Services Agency NI, over the course of the calendar year, a total of £3,363,179.86 in legal aid payments were authorised through the Craigavon Court office.

The largest proportion of this was on proceedings being heard in the Crown Court, with individuals receiving authorised legal aid support in cases totalling £2,085,283.22.

Craigavon Magistrates courts accounted for £1,211,344.33, with County Court appeals £66,552.31.

The Newry Court office saw authorised legal aid payments for Crown Courts of £1,447,636.25, and for Magistrates and County Court appeals of £1,111,429.90 and £32,500.39 respectively.

In total, the Newry bill came in at £2,591,566.54.

The lowest figures were at Armagh Courthouse, which had been earmarked for closure up until October 26, when then Justice Minister Claire Sugden had overturned the recommendation of her predecessor David Ford.

It had been proposed that it would close with the proceedings expected to be taken on between both Craigavon and Newry and the building sold off.

Fortunately, that never happened.

At Armagh, a total of £418,303.65 in legal aid payments were approved. The majority of this was Magistrates Court, £328,328.72. Crown accounted for £73,468.76, and County Court appeals at £16,506.17.

The figures cover the cost of all legal aid payments relating to proceedings, including those undertaken by PSNI and through central government departments, such as pollution, wrongful benefit claims and a whole range of others.

It also covers those instances where defendants have pleaded guilty and contested matters.

While the payments relate to the 2017 calendar year, some of the proceedings may have begun before January 1, 2017.

Similarly, other cases may have been heard and concluded during the year, but the legal aid amounts are not included in these sums because no bill had been submitted or processed before December 31, 2017.

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