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Lawyers link with London to cut Legal Aid costs

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Charter Chambers Bermuda limited partners Mark Pettingill and Marc Daneils in their offices at 58 Par-La-Ville Road in Hamilton. (Photo by Glenn Tucker)

Two Bermudian defence lawyers have launched a company with links to a top London law firm, in the hope of cutting Legal Aid costs by sharing knowledge.Marc Daniels and Mark Pettingill launched Charter Chambers Bermuda on May 2. It’s affiliated with Charter Chambers in London, headed by Queen’s Counsel Jerome Lynch, who’s acted in several high-profile Bermuda cases.Concerns have been raised recently over the mounting cost to the public of Legal Aid bills resulting from the upsurge in gun and gang violence. The Legal Aid Department ran out of cash towards the end of the 2010-11 budget year due to the increased crime rate, and people struggling to meet their own legal bills due to the economic crisis.Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is dealing with increasing numbers of lengthy trials relating to gangland murders and attempted murders, which often see QCs [Queen’s Counsel] enlisted from overseas.Attorney General Michael Scott pledged a crackdown on Legal Aid payments to QCs after the department suffered a 30 percent funding cut in the 2011/12 Budget.Mr Pettingill, a Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP, supports Government’s stance on the issue. He said the new firm would help by liaising with experts in London via new technology instead of paying to fly them to Bermuda.“Despite our affiliation [with Charter Chambers UK] we don’t need to be bringing in QCs to do all these cases. One thing we have is the ability to seek counsel and a second opinion from people like Mr Lynch if we need to deal with things like gunshot residue and we need expertise,” he explained.“We wanted to set up a law firm that’s on the cutting-edge, particularly on the technology side in terms of being able to access expert information. Charter Chambers is able to make that available using iPads and 4G phones.“Marc and I are devoted to trying to address things in a timely fashion without running up exorbitant Legal Aid bills.”Mr Pettingill, 47, who was called to the Bermuda Bar in 1992, worked with Wakefield Quin law firm for over 12 years. Mr Daniels, 32, who was called to the Bar in 2007, previously ran his own chambers called Consigliare.The pair have worked together on cases such as the Kellon Hill murder trial, where their client was one of several teenagers acquitted of the killing. Mr Daniels credited Mr Pettingill for supporting and guiding him in his career so far, and said they have “great synergy” as professional partners.He shares his opinion on the importance of cutting Legal Aid bills, commenting: “In my four years of practice I have done every case by myself; I’ve never had a QC. Mark Pettingill has offered me guidance and support. Together we’ve had discussions with Legal Aid and offered opinions on cutting down the costs.“We should not be paying this much money for overseas QCs when local counsel should be working towards professional development. It’s not like we’re going to be bringing Jerome in for everything. We’ve got QCs at our fingertips for video conferencing and telephone calls for opinions on various matters such as developing legislation and the impact of UK case law on Bermuda.”Mr Lynch said: “I head a chambers that has 60 barristers and eight silks (QCs) and a considerable amount of experience. We’re in a position to provide assistance to them and their clients.“There are a limited amount of criminal practitioners in Bermuda. It’s clear that with what’s been happening with drugs and murders, there’s a need to get advice and assistance from those with greater experience.”

Linking with London: Charter Chambers Bermuda limited partners Mark Pettingill and Marc Daneils in their office located on Par-La-Ville Road. (Photo by Glenn Tucker)