Claims agency seeks to cut legal fees

Thu, Aug 16, 2012, 01:00

The State Claims Agency plans to reduce the fees its pays to barristers by up to 25 per cent by introducing a new tendering system.

The agency is one of the largest buyers of legal services in the country and the new scheme follows a similar initiative introduced two years ago for fees paid to solicitors which the agency said cut the level of fees paid by a quarter.

The new structure will also allow barristers who have been in practice for less than five years to supply services on less complex cases, director of the agency Ciaran Breen said today.

The agency will also take responsibility for the new Legal Costs Unit, to be established by the Government, which will deal with third-party costs from public inquiries including the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals.

And it will also manage a new Garda compensation scheme to be established by the Minister for Justice for officers maliciously injured in the line of duty.

Cases will no longer go to the High Court, resulting in an estimated saving of €3 million in legal fees, although the right to appeal to the High Court remains. 

The agency deals with personal injury and property damage claims against 54 State bodies and is part of the National Treasury Management Agency.

A transparent structure for fees will be put in place and barristers will have to set out their fees for a wide range of legal services for the High, Circuit and District Courts, the agency said.

Describing the planned new scheme as “radical and unique” Mr Breen said “we receive an excellent service from the barristers we engage but we now plan to use our buying power to benefit the taxpayer by achieving better value for money in respect of the fees we pay for this service”.

He also said the provision for barristers with less than five years experience would create greater competition by increasing the pool of available lawyers and it would also help foster young talent at the Bar.

Under the new structure two panels of lawyers will be established – one for employer liability, public liability and property damage-related cases; and the second for clinical negligence cases.

The agency will today inform the Bar Council of its planned scheme and full details including the maximum allowable range of fees will be released tomorrow on the Government procurement site etenders.gov.ie

The agency director said Garda compensation cases used to take up to seven years to settle from the time a claim was lodged, but said they now aimed to deal with them in one year, with two years allowed for more complex cases.

Eventually the unit will take responsibility for all litigation against the State. 

In 2011 the agency said it made significant savings in the management of clinical indemnity claims. Independent actuarial assessments predicted costs of €106 million for the year but the actual cost was €81 million.

Last year the State Claims Agency had 5,306 claims on its books by the end of the year, receiving 2,697 new claims and resolving 1,656 during the year.

NTMA chief executive John Corrigan said the claims agency had delivered significant savings and it was a “real public sector success story”. He said the agency had demonstrated its ability to achieve real savings for the taxpayer.

“I am pleased that the Government has deemed it appropriate to delegate additional responsibility to the agency in recognition of its ability to manage claims against State authorities in a highly efficient and professional manner,” Mr Corrigan said.