NI: Co Down lawyer among Labour rebels standing for election
Co Down lawyer Emma Hutchinson is among a group of UK Labour Party members who are defying party rules by running candidates in next month’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections.
Ms Hutchinson, who said reform of Northern Ireland’s abortion laws was her top priority, has criticised what she called outgoing Justice Minister David Ford’s “mixed record in office”.
She told Irish Legal News: “The changes to the fee structure in criminal legal aid and the ensuing dispute was undoubtedly a low point.
“The media focus is often on high earning, senior lawyers leading to little support for the practitioners concerned.
“It disregards the young lawyers who are already making very little, perhaps just about enough to cover their travel expenses, for whom further cuts may make continuing no longer worthwhile. This has serious implications for access to justice.
“One of the great things about an independent referral bar is that if you find yourself accused of a crime you have access to the best lawyers in the field for your defence.
“If we discourage people from entering or remaining in criminal defence we are heading towards a two tier system of justice for the rich and not so much for the poor.”
Ms Hutchinson, a barrister on both sides of the border, is a candidate for the Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee (NILRC) in Upper Bann.
She explained: “As women’s officer for the Labour Party in Northern Ireland it is disappointing that with upwards of 1800 members they still refuse to allow us to stand candidates.
“For that reason we are running as the Northern Ireland Labour Representation Committee in order to put Labour-style politics to the electorate.”
Ms Hutchinson completed her undergraduate law degree at Trinity College Dublin in 2007 before going on to gain a barrister-at-law degree at the King’s Inns.
She was called to the Bar of Ireland in 2010 and the Bar of Northern Ireland in 2013, spending her devilling years in criminal prosecution and personal injuries before commencing her own general practice focussed on family law and criminal defence.
She has worked with the Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) and the Citizens Advice Bureau, and is now undertaking a masters in social justice law at the University of Ulster as an Allen & Overy scholar.
Ms Hutchinson said: “I know that there are other lawyers in the Assembly and I don’t know, necessarily, if it would make me a better or worse MLA.
“I would hope that it would allow me to take a more reasoned approach to matters, allow me to realise that the world is not black and white and that not all issues or problems can be solved by legislation.
“That being said as a lawyer I understand that unintended impact, that ill thought out, hastily implemented or poorly drafted legislation can have. Far too many significant changes in the law are currently brought in through amendments and that is something I think should change.”