Legal aid can still continue even if client absconds

Lord Morrow

Lord Morrow

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has revealed that, even if a defendant has absconded whilst on bail, it does not invalidate their entitlement to a publicly-funded defence.

The answer came in a written response to a question from DUP MLA Lord Morrow, who had posed a string of queries to the DoJ following the disappearance of Damien McLaughlin, who denies charges including aiding and abetting David Black’s murder.

Lord Morrow had already revealed during the week that at least £80,000 had been spent on McLaughlin’s legal aid before he vanished sometime after November 18 (though this figure does not include senior barrister costs).

McLaughlin (40 and from Kilmacally Road in the Ardboe area of Co Tyrone, but with a bail address in west Belfast) is still theoretically due to stand trial on February 20.

The DoJ told Lord Morrow: “In instances where a defendant absconds in breach of bail conditions the legal aid is not suspended or stopped.”

Another DoJ answer to him reveals that the department definitively regards McLaughlin as having absconded.

And in a separate answer to Lord Morrow, the DoJ stated that it regards McLaughlin as having definitely absconded.

Until now, there was no official explanation for him vanishing (for example, he could have died).