Northern Ireland

Taggart brothers given legal aid deadline by judge

Former housing developers Michael and John Taggart have two weeks to seek legal aid for their multi-million pound legal battle with the Ulster Bank.

A judge imposed the deadline on the brothers after being told they can no longer afford to pay for lawyers.

Counsel for the bank was sceptical about their financial plight and the judge wants to see copies of their legal aid applications.

He will then review the case at the start of October.

The brothers are suing the Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct they claim contributed to the collapse of the Taggart Group in 2008..

Dismissed

The firm was one of Northern Ireland's largest house-builders, with operations in England and the Republic of Ireland.

But it collapsed during the property crash in 2008, costing creditors hundreds of millions of pounds.

In a counter claim, Ulster Bank has lodged writs for £5m and 4.3m euros (£3.6m) it claims the brothers owe in personal guarantees.

A three-week hearing of the combined cases due to begin at the High Court on Monday was put on hold after it emerged that the Taggarts have dismissed their team of lawyers.

They requested an adjournment to allow them to seek legal aid, claiming it was no longer financially possible to keep paying barristers and solicitors.

Michael Taggart told the court how the case had "consumed" their lives for five years and cost in excess of £1m.

If their legal aid application is turned down he and his brother intend to represent themselves as self-litigants.

The bank's barrister opposed the adjournment, claiming costs had nothing to do with their reason for dismissing their legal team.

He alleged that it was the latest in a series of tactical manoeuvres by the Taggarts to avoid being exposed by the court.

Following the judge's decision to allow two weeks for the brothers to seek aid through the Legal Services Commission, the barrister said those with a disposable annual income of more than £10,000 do not qualify.

"The bank does have information which could have importance for the Commission when it comes to consider decisions of eligibility," he said.

The barrister claimed it was "incredible to imagine someone in the Taggarts position" going through the legal aid process.

The case was adjourned until October 1.