Stephen Lawrence’s racist killer gets legal aid to sue prison – but Charlie Gard’s parents are DENIED cash to fight for their baby’s life
As Charlie Gard’s parents prepare to lose their treasured son after being denied legal aid for the fight to treat him, there was outrage that a racist killer is to be handed state cash to sue prison chiefs.
With defence and court costs included, the case could leave taxpayers a total bill of £70,000.
But Chris Gard and Connie Yates were not given a penny in legal aid as they took on Great Ormond Street Hospital in their bid to take sick 11-month-old Charlie to the US for therapy they strongly believed would improve his life.
It came after the Tories changed the law to restrict support for legal battles. The parents’ local MP, Labour’s Seema Malhotra, last night blasted the system that allows a convicted killer state money but denies the same support for parents fighting medical professionals over life and death decisions.
She said: “It’s clear it needs overhauling. The heartbreaking case of Charlie Gard highlights why it’s wrong for parents facing this situation to not have access to legal support or for there to be so much uncertainty.”
Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon added: “Ordinary people and families seeking justice shouldn’t have to rely on searching for lawyers willing to work for free or on crowdfunding to pay their legal bills.”
And Labour’s justice spokesman in the House of Lords ,Jeremy Beecham, said: “The whole system has been massively undermined in the last few years. Many people have been completely denied access to justice.
“That certainly sounds to be the case in the case of this poor kid’s family. It is the sort of case where they should have had legal aid.”
Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Ed Davey added: “This shows the legal aid system is broken and urgently needs to be fixed.”
On Monday, the High Court judge who heard Chris and Connie’s case called for financial support to be extended to families suing hospitals. Mr Justice Francis said: “It does seem to me that Parliament … cannot have intended that parents in the position that these parents have been in should have no access to legal advice or representation.
“I can think of few more profound cases than ones where a [hospital] trust is applying to the court for a declaration that a
life-support machine should be switched off in respect of a child. I am aware that there are many parents around the country in similar positions. I cannot imagine that anyone ever intended parents to be in this position.”
Chris and Connie, both in their 30s and of Bedfont, West London, relied on donations from wellwishers and lawyers who worked for free to fund their battle with Great Ormond Street. Doctors there insisted the US therapy would make no difference to little Charlie, who has mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome that left him brain damaged. They ended their fight on Monday after accepting time had run out for the tragic youngster to have effective treatment.
But Norris, 40, had no trouble getting legal aid to sue the Ministry of Justice.
His successful application was revealed at Central London county court yesterday. His lawyer Gwawr Thomas said: : “The claimant is now legally aided.” Norris, the son of a former South London drug trafficker who lived in an £800,000 home at the time of Stephen’s murder, is due to give evidence about the attack from Garth prison, near Preston, later this year.
The MoJ is fighting the claim, arguing Norris provoked the beating in Belmarsh jail, South East London, and failed to take “reasonable care for his own safety”. He was allegedly set upon by three inmates, including one convicted of another hate murder, in his cell with a knife and a sock filled with tins.
Norris suffered a broken nose, cuts on his face needing 18 stitches, two black eyes, broken ribs and anxiety resulting in him taking
antidepressants and psychiatric treatment.
The prisoners were never charged and the MoJ say he must prove it took place and the identity of his assailants. Norris claims Leon Fyle, 28, convicted of strangling a transgender prostitute, was among them. The bleating killer also claims officials left him vulnerable by moving him to a wing with a “large number of black inmates who had shown a propensity towards violence”.
Norris and his gang stabbed 18-year-old Stephen to death as he waited at a bus stop with a friend in Eltham, South East London.
He was jailed for life in 2012 along with fellow thug Gary Dobson.
The Lawrence family were not entitled to legal aid in 1994 to launch a private prosecution against Norris and two other suspects.
Victims’ rights campaigner Harry Fletcher said: “The legal aid system is weighted in favour of perpetrators against victims.
“It’s disgraceful that many victims of domestic violence do not qualify for legal aid and have to fund themselves whereas a convicted murderer qualifies for it. It is grossly unfair.”
Who gets legal aid?
A couple cannot get legal aid if they have a gross income of more than £31,844 , a disposable income of £8,796, or £8,000 in savings and assets.
Postman Chris and carer Connie were said to exceed this. In family law it is primarily available when a child is taken into care.
Criminals who ran up bills that the taxpayer paid
David Norris is not the first high-profile criminal whose legal aid award caused outrage.
Anjem Choudary cost the taxpayer more than £140,000 in a bid to dodge jail.
He was jailed last year after being found guilty of inciting support for the terror group in a series of sick online lectures. He is believed to have inspired at least 110 Britons to commit terror acts and encouraged up to 850 to fight for Islamic State.
He was handed £98,122 to pay for a solicitor, £23,569 for another court lawyer, and £18,866 in legal expenses.
The ageing Hatton Garden Gang were given more than £660,000. They stole £14million of goods from Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Company in London. Getaway driver Billy “The Fish” Lincoln, 60, received £185,449 and Carl Wood, 59, £175,717.
Hugh Doyle, 49, got £166,583.73. Daniel Jones, 60, Terence Perkins, 67, John Collins, 75, and Brian Reader, 76 shared £138,300.62.
Paedophile Stuart Hazell landed taxpayers with a £67,000 legal bill for putting 12-year-old Tia Sharp’s family through a trial in 2013 before admitting he killed her.
Hazell suffocated Tia during a sex attack in New Addington, South London. Soldier Lee Rigby’s killers got more than £200,000. Lifer Michael Adebolajo received £138,800 and Michael Adebowale, who is serving 45 years, got £73,800.
Ben Butler and his wife Jennie Gray got around £1.5million in legal aid over 15 years. Butler, jailed for a minimum of 23 years for killing his five-year-old daughter Ellie, was apparently given part of the money for his custody fight against grandfather Neal Gray.
Ellie’s grandparents were left penniless after fighting for her custody.
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