Irish lawyers' ceasefire hopes

NORTHERN Irish lawyers will face a major shift in their working lives if there is lasting peace in the province.

Until now, terrorism has generated legal work and led to attempted coercion of, and death threats to, both lawyers and judges.

Richard Ferguson QC, chair of the English Bar's Criminal Bar Association, says: “With the lifting of the risk of assassination, many more people will be willing to consider a

judicial career. One possible change might be more members of the nationalist community being prepared to play their part in judicial matters.”

Ferguson, an ex-Unionist MP who has acted for Republican defendants including the Birmingham Six, says top Catholic lawyers are believed to have turned down jobs on the bench.

Many lawyers hope peace will bring a more commercial dynamism to the profession.

Michael Davey, Law Society of Northern Ireland secretary, says: “If one assumes all paramilitary activity will cease, then there will be some differences.

“There will be less criminal work and a reduction in criminal damage and injury work. But any loss of revenue you have to set off against work stemming from increased economic activity.”

Terrorism-related work pervades legal practice, particularly with criminal injury and damage claims, says solicitor Paddy Duffy of PA Duffy & Co.

The Compensation Agency paid out more than u97 million in the year to March 1994.

Half the libel work arises from terrorism-related coverage, says Cleaver Fulton Rankin partner Paul Springer.

Terrorism directly provides around 90 per cent of work to the Criminal Bar, says one Irish lawyer. At Belfast Crown court a third of the 1,244 total defendants dealt with in 1993 were charged with scheduled terrorist offences.