What price justice? Cost of cases reviewed

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Treasury is in talks with the Attorney General’s chambers over the uncontrolled legal aid and other costs associated with large, complex court and tribunal cases.

The announcement was made by Treasury Minister Eddie Teare in his Budget speech who told Tynwald: ‘I do not believe that current arrangements strike the right balance between justice and cost.

‘It is the public who are paying for these cases to come to court and whilst I have no desire to interfere in the process of justice, I do think it is time to look seriously at ways of reducing the bill to the taxpayer. I will therefore begin a process of consultation with the Attorney General’s chambers.’

His comments came as questions were raised about the cost to the public purse of high-profile criminal cases.

On Monday this week, Attorney General Stephen Harding was formally cleared of perjury and committing acts against public justice after the prosecution told the court it would not be seeking a second retrial. The prosecution decided to offer no evidence after two juries were discharged having failed to reach verdicts on either of the two counts.

Mr Teare insisted his comments in the Budget Speech did not relate to that case but added that ‘quite rightly’ people will be asking questions about its costs.

He said his main concern was about the growth in Legal Aid costs in family proceedings and also about criminal cases where charges are reduced once they reach the higher court.

Mr Harding, 52, of Glen Vine, remains suspended pending possible disciplinary proceedings.

After not guilty verdicts were formally recorded by Deemster Alastair Montgomerie at a hearing in the Court of General Gaol Delivery on Monday, Detective Chief Inspector Sid Caine, who led the inquiry, said: ‘I should imagine this must be a most unsatisfactory outcome from the perspective of both the complainants and the defendant alike but thankfully the heavy burden as to the question of innocence or guilt is not a matter for the constabulary.

‘The members of my enquiry team were tasked with conducting a thorough and impartial investigation in seeking to collate the facts of this challenging case and that is exactly what they did.’

Questions have also been asked about the cost of the Douglas East by-election vote rigging trial which is now expected to top £1m.

Last week, Manx advocate Jenny Holt won her three-year battle to clear her name, after the Privy Council quashed her conviction for money laundering and falsifying documents, concluding a defect in Deemster Turner’s direction to the jury had been fatal to the safety of the conviction.

Miss Holt was found guilty in 2011 of handling £400,000 stolen from a trust fund by tycoon Trevor Baines. She was handed a 12-month sentence suspended for two years. The appeal court dismissed both her appeal against conviction and an application by then Attorney General John Corlett to replace her ‘unduly lenient’ sentence with a jail term.

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