Legal costs dispute prompts Bar Council’s move for appointment of receiver over retired judge’s pension funds

Council application adjourned on consent at High Court after ‘some agreement’ reached

A dispute over a legal costs bill of some €144,000 arising from retired High Court judge Barry White’s bid to return to practice has prompted the Bar Council to initiate an application for appointment of a receiver over the pension funds of Mr White.

When the council’s application came before the High Court on Monday, it was adjourned on consent after Mr Justice Michael Quinn was told some agreement had been reached on foot of which the parties had engaged “to an extent”.

Roland Rowan BL, for the council, said both sides were seeking an adjournment to October when he expected the court would either be given “some news” of there may be an exchange of affidavits.

Mr White was not in court but Mr Rowan indicated there had been contact with his solicitor and the adjournment application was on consent.

Mr Justice Quinn, granting the adjournment, said he was glad to hear there had been engagement, adding that “hopefully, the matter will be resolved”.

The council initiated the application to appoint a solicitor as receiver over three pension funds of Mr White’s due to an alleged outstanding legal costs bill of some €144,000.

Mr White retired in 2014 after 12 years as a High Court judge. He had an extensive practice at the criminal Bar prior to his appointment to the bench and was required to retire as a judge at the age of 70.

In his bid to resume practice as a criminal defence barrister after retirement, he took legal proceedings against the Bar Council and the State.

The action concerned a Bar Council rule that prevented him practising in a court equal to, or lower than, the one he presided over; in his case, that meant all courts below the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Mr White claimed he needed to return to work as a barrister due to financial necessity, and because his pension entitlements were insufficient to meet the needs of his family.

He alleged the Bar Council rule and an impermissible application by the Minister for Justice of the rule, excluding him from the criminal legal aid panel unless he was a member of the Law Library, breached his constitutional right to earn a livelihood.

In July 2016, the High Court ruled Mr White could return to practice without having to be a member of the Law Library but it refused to declare the council rule was unconstitutional. The Bar is effectively a private club entitled to operate its own rules, Mr Justice Max Barrett held.

The High Court also ruled the Minister was liable for Mr White’s entire costs of the proceedings, including his failed claim against the council.

The Minister appealed over being held liable for Mr White’s costs to the council and, in 2018, the Court of Appeal (COA) allowed that appeal.

The COA said the orders sought against the council could never have been granted against the Minister, and vice versa, and the High Court had erred in concluding it had jurisdiction to make the Minister liable for Mr White’s costs to the council.

That meant the State had to pay Mr White his costs of his successful claim against the State, but Mr White was liable for the council’s costs in relation to his failed claim against it.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times