Barristers face cut of 25% in State fees


BARRISTERS FACE significant cuts in the fees they charge for Government work, as well as a more transparent pricing system, under a “radical and unique” tender process to reduce legal fees to the State.

The State Claims Agency plans to cut legal charges by up to 25 per cent in the new system, which will set maximum fee limits for specific elements of work performed by barristers.

The agency, which deals with personal injury and property damage claims against 54 State bodies, will publish details of the new scheme on the Government procurement site It said the scheme would be in place by mid-November.

It follows a similar initiative two years ago for solicitors, which the agency said cut fees by between 20 and 25 per cent.

Solicitors were paid €22 million over the last three years by the agency, one of the largest buyers of legal services in the State.

Fees paid to barristers in the past three years were about €10 million.

The agency’s director, Ciarán Breen, said the change would increase the numbers applying for State work, resulting in greater competition among barristers. He said younger barristers would also be offered the opportunity to work on less complex cases.

“Previously, barristers who had less than five years’ practice experience have not received instructions from us,” he said.

The agency will also run the Government’s planned unit for legal costs and will “forensically” examine third-party costs from the Mahon and Moriarty tribunals. 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.

The agency hopes to cut the waiting time to settle such cases from an average of seven years to one year, or two years in more difficult cases.

Cases will no longer go to the High Court and an estimated annual saving of €3 million in legal fees is expected, although the right to appeal to the High Court will remain.

Legal fees amounted to €4.9 million of the €5.8 million total paid by the State last year in Garda compensation cases.

Describing the planned new scheme as “radical and unique”, Mr Breen said while the agency “enjoys an excellent working relationship” with the Bar, it has a duty to get as much value as possible in all aspects of its dealings on behalf of citizens.

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

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

The State Claims Agency had 5,306 claims on its books by the end of last year.

It resolved 1,656 claims during the year and received 2,697 new claims.

Mr Breen said the tender documents would detail the maximum capped fee the agency would pay for individual items of work.

“We are saying: ‘This is the maximum you can get for drafting this document, for your day in court or for your brief fee.’ ”