THE very notion of double-murderer Colin Howell getting criminal legal aid is an obscenity which needs to be addressed, according to SDLP MLA John Dallat.
His comments follow his written Assembly question to Justice Minister, David Ford, on the costs of the trials of double murderers Howell and his former lover, Hazel Stewart.
In his answer Mr Ford confirmed that the dentist and father of ten was granted criminal legal aid for legal representation in the Magistrates’ Court and in the Crown Court.
To date, the bills received and paid for his representation in the Magistrates’ Court amount to £32,050.35 (excluding VAT of £4,507.30). All bills from counsel have not yet been submitted and the final total cost will be greater.
The Legal Services Commission has not received any bills for assessment of Howell’s trial in the Crown Court. However, a provisional estimate indicates that the cost is unlikely to be less than £24,000 (including VAT).
Mother of two Hazel Stewart - who is considering appealing her 18 year prison sentence - was also granted legal aid for both the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court. The bills for legal representation in the Magistrates’ Court have been assessed and paid and the total costs were £13,135.10 (excluding VAT of £2,298.64).
The Commission has not received any bills for assessment for the Crown Court trial. A provisional estimate suggests that the cost is unlikely to be less than £62,000 (including VAT).
Mr Dallat told The Coleraine Times: “In recent times the Minister for Justice announced a clampdown on legal aid and this is impacting on ordinary decent people who are seeking nothing more than justice in their individual legal cases.
“These final costs involved in these cases will, I believe, be much more than that estimated in the answer to my question not to mention the hundreds of thousands of pounds which will be required to keep the both of them in jail for the next twenty years or more.“We are told that Howell has money stashed away in different parts of the world. Whatever the difficulties calling this money in it should be used to offset the legal costs and the costs of keeping this double killer in jail. “The same applies to Hazel Stewart. It is important to remember that both of them benefitted very substantially as a direct result of murdering their partners.
“The notion that the public is bearing the legal and other costs of this shocking case is not acceptable. I intend to ensure that there is a progress report on what is happening in the Howell-Stewart case at regular intervals until I am satisfied that the slate has been wiped clean financially.”