Compensation over contempt of court upheld


DUBLIN CIRCUIT Court has upheld the amount of compensation to be awarded against The Irish Times and the Irish Examiner for contempt of court arising out of reporting of the trial of Paschal Carmody. It was calculated by referring to costs.

The newspapers had appealed the amount taxed against them of more than €480,000, which had been awarded by Clare county registrar Patrick Wallace.

Judge Donagh McDonagh increased one element of the costs of the defence, stating he considered the reduction of the brief fee by 25 per cent by Mr Wallace to be excessive. He ordered the costs to be divided between the two newspapers in the ratio of 57 per cent for The Irish Times and 43 per cent for the Irish Examiner.

The two papers were directed to pay compensation for the costs of the trial of former Clare GP Paschal Carmody in April 2011 on charges of deception and false pretences. They had published articles containing matters discussed in court in the absence of the jury and were held to be in contempt of court by the judge, leading to the abandonment of the trial.

The newspapers accepted the costs of just more than €100,000 for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). However, they disputed a fee of just less than €360,000 calculated by Mr Wallace for costs incurred by Mr Carmody’s defence team. This was made up of €150,000 for solicitor Michael Staines, which included €54,000 for days spent in court, €18,000 for a supporting solicitor and more than €70,000 for his pre-trial work.

The newspapers also disputed the barristers’ fees. A brief fee of €32,500 for senior counsel and refresher fees of €3,000 a day had been granted, with two-thirds for junior counsel, compared with a brief fee of just more than €5,000 and just less than €1,500 a day for counsel for the DPP.

Judge McDonagh said Mr Staines was at the top of his profession in his area. Nothing could be more important than the liberty of a citizen, along with his good name, and the fees should be at the top of the scale. Referring to the fact the issue arose during a retrial, he said the passage of time would have blunted the knowledge acquired for the first trial. The work to be done for the retrial, far from being easier, would have been significantly more complex, he said.

Mr Wallace had engaged in a legitimate assessment and taxed the costs reasonably. The engagement of support solicitors in Ennis and a back-up in Mr Staines’s office during his absence was also necessary.

Referring to counsel fees, he said the same applied, apart from the added burden of the transcript of the first trial. “I find the county registrar did not give sufficient weight to this” in reducing the brief fee and refresher fees by 25 per cent, he said. A 12.5 per cent cut was appropriate. The senior counsel’s fee should be €40,000, with an equivalent increase in refresher (daily) fees.

He ordered the newspapers to pay the costs of the taxation and the appeal against it and gave them 90 days to pay.