Solicitor faces trial linked to sham marriage racket claim

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A MOIRA solicitor and a trainee solicitor are to stand trial accused in connection with an alleged sham marriage racket, a judge has ruled.

John Irwin and Michelle Lyons were among four men and three women to appear in the dock at Belfast Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday September 12).

Irwin, aged 36 and of Kesh Road, Lisburn, Co Antrim, faces charges of assisting unlawful immigration by completing driving licence applications for non-European Union citizens.

The lawyer is currently suspended from practice after the Law Society intervened in the running of his Moira-based firm.

Trainee solicitor Lyons, 42, from Main Street, Castlerock, is accused of similar offences and of participating in a sham marriage at Belfast Registry Office in August 2011 by arranging to obtain the relevant paperwork.

Alongside them in the dock were Robert Nicholl, 55, of Sea Road, Castlerock, and Edward Nicholl, 59, from Glebe Avenue, Coleraine, who are charged with breaching immigration law by acting as groom and witness at the alleged bogus wedding.

Chinese woman Lin Shuli, 47, of Camden Street, Belfast, is accused of seeking to remain in the United Kingdom by deception through posing as a bride in the sham marriage.

Two other foreign nationals: Hu Jiang Yuan, 56, of Credenhill Park, Dunmurry, Belfast; and Wang Ye, 20, of Camden Street, Belfast, are charged with assisting by being a witness and interpreter at the ceremony.

All seven defendants nodded to confirm they understood the charges against them.

None of them gave evidence or called witnesses during the preliminary enquiry hearing.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall agreed with prosecution submissions that a prima facie case has been established against all accused.

She ruled that they should be returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be fixed.

The defendants were all released on bail until those proceedings get underway.

The Law Society confirmed to the Mail the action taken against Irwin.

In a statement the regulatory body said: “The Law Society of Northern Ireland can confirm that John Irwin Solicitor has been suspended from practice and the Society has intervened in his practice, pursuant to its statutory powers.

“Enquiries should be directed to the Law Society.”

On his website Mr Irwin said he was born in Craigavon but grew up in Benburb, County Tyrone, where he went to the Royal School, Dungannon.

He went on to study Law and Accountancy at Queen’s University, Belfast.

He qualified as a solicitor through the Institute of Professional Legal Studies.