If you happen to find yourself in need of legal aid, Obiter assumes you would grab the chance to have senior counsel on your side. Not so one Kevin Maguire. In fact, the Northern Irishman last week took his fight to secure the services of a less able (on paper, anyway) counsel all the way to the Supreme Court.
Maguire, accused of sexual offences, was entitled to legal aid and the services of two counsel – one of whom, according to Northern Ireland’s Bar Council, should be senior.
But it was ‘leading junior counsel’ Mark Barlow who took the lead in the trial, allegedly having taken no steps to ascertain whether senior counsel was available. For that, Barlow was disciplined by the Bar Council.
Still, it’s clear his client liked what he saw. Before his retrial Maguire unsuccessfully asked the Bar Council for Barlow to return, alongside another junior. In the meantime, Maguire’s retrial, sans Barlow, took place and Maguire was acquitted.
The Supreme Court justices were not impressed. In a strongly worded judgment last week the court dismissed Maguire’s appeal against the Bar Council’s decision and insisted he must retain a senior. Legal representation should be conducive to a fair trial, rather than conferring ‘complete freedom’ to choose a lawyer, they sternly intoned.