Barristers paid €139 million for State work over decade
Asylum the busiest area of activity for Attorney General’s office
The records underline that the clear majority of barristers who carry out work for the attorney’s office are paid relatively small amounts.
The Attorney General paid a total of €139 million to barristers over the past decade, with some individuals earning more than €3 million.
Figures released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act show that from January 2002 to August last, two barristers were paid €3.2 million, seven made €2-€3 million and a further 27 earned €1-€2 million for civil work on behalf of the Attorney General’s office.
The database of payments shows that asylum has been by far the busiest area of activity for the attorney’s office, accounting for 23 per cent of all cases it dealt with over the past decade. Barristers specialising in asylum are consistently among the highest earners, with some being paid close to €500,000 a year to represent the State in court.
Top Earners 2002-2013
The figures do not include fees paid by the Director of Public Prosecutions or the HSE, or the fees of lawyers who are members of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.
The attorney’s office paid a total of €139 million to barristers over the past decade, but the database shows that fees have fallen considerably since the recession hit. The annual spend reached a peak of €17.8 million in 2008 and has been declining ever since.
In 2012, some €9.5 million was paid out to barristers for civil work, which includes constitutional challenges, judicial reviews, legal advice and commercial litigation involving the State.
Since January 2002, two barristers – Siobhan Stack SC and Sara Moorhead SC – have each earned €3.2 million from the attorney’s office. They are followed on the list by Feichin McDonagh SC (€2.9 million), Maurice Collins SC (€2.7 million), Robert Barron SC (€2.6 million) and James Connolly SC (€2.5 million).
The highest earner for the past two years has been Emily Farrell, who was paid some €520,000 in 2012 and €409,000 in 2011.
But the records underline that the clear majority of barristers who carry out work for the attorney’s office are paid relatively small amounts. Of 333 individuals who appear on the 2012 list, just 24 earned more than €100,000, whereas about two-thirds were paid less than €20,000.
The chairman of the Bar Council, David Nolan SC, said any assessment of barristers’ incomes from the State must take account of the 50 per cent cut in fees over the past five years. The council believed the Attorney General’s office should distribute the work among as many practitioners as possible. “The State should have in place a system where as many barristers as possible are briefed in these types of cases,” he said. “That spreads around the expertise and spreads around the income.”
The high expenditure on asylum cases, despite the decline in asylum seekers arriving in Ireland in recent years, will revive debate on how to ease the backlog of judicial reviews and improve the system more generally.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said he will enact legislation this year to streamline the application process into a single procedure – a proposal that dates back to the early 2000s.