Legal aid strike sees murder defendants without lawyers at Sheffield Crown Court

John Gogarty was found stabbed to death at his home in Wombwell on Friday, July 167, 2015
John Gogarty was found stabbed to death at his home in Wombwell on Friday, July 167, 2015
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Two defendants accused of murdering a South Yorkshire pensioner have appeared in court without lawyers as a result of the ongoing legal aid strike.

Ian Birley, aged 43, and Helen Nichols, 38, both of Mont Walk, Wombwell, appeared at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday morning via video link from custody.

They are jointly accused of killing 65-year-old John Gogarty on July 13 this year and both entered not guilty pleas.

Mr Gogarty’s body was found at a house on Marsh Street, Wombwell, on Friday, July 17. A post-mortem examination found he had been stabbed.

A trial is now scheduled to take place in November at Sheffield Crown Court and is set to last for around two weeks.

The ongoing dispute between solicitors and the Ministry of Justice over cuts in fees has meant defendants accused of serious crimes across South Yorkshire have had to represent themselves in court.

But the Ministry of Justice continues to say ‘courts have been sitting as usual’ since the dispute started.

Local barristers are also supporting the action by refusing to cover the work of colleagues who have diary clashes between different criminal cases.

Other cases at Sheffield Crown Court were also hit by delays and complications yesterday as a result of the ongoing strike.

Stephen Reynolds, a defendant facing burglary charges, said he had not been aware he would have no legal representative.

Judge Julian Goose QC told him at the start of his case: “A number of defendants have got the same problem.

“There is an ongoing dispute which means there is a lot of cases where there isn’t representation.”

Appearing via video link from custody, Reynolds, 34, of Maltravers Road, said: “I haven’t got anyone to represent me, surely it is illegal. How can they do this?”

Judge Goose said the case was a preliminary hearing, with Reynolds next due in court in October.

In another case, the sentencing of three defendants charged with grooming and false imprisonment was adjourned until next month as one of the group’s barristers was off work with a medical issue and the strike meant there was no one available to take over representing the man. The ongoing dispute concerns the Government making cuts as part of a plan to reduce the £1.7bn bill for legal aid, which supports people who can’t afford the cost of legal advice.