Fees sought by the barristers who represented the Christian Brothers at the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse have been substantially reduced.
Taxing Master Declan O’Neill has decided that the congregation should only be paid for having one senior counsel rather than two at commission hearings.
In his ruling, Mr O’Neill noted that the barristers have already been paid by the order. How this is now dealt with is for the solicitor firm and their client, he said.
The decision, which was handed down two weeks ago but has not been reported before, concerns commission sittings in 2005 into claims of abuse at Christian Brothers institutions at Artane, Letterfrack and Tralee.
Total legal costs for all parties that appeared before the commission are understood to be in the region of €90 million, while more than €1.5 billion has been paid out through a scheme of redress set up for those injured or damaged in the religious-run and State-funded institutions that were the subject of complaints.
The Taxing Master’s office rules on costs where the parties cannot come to an agreement. The case involving the Christian Brothers’ representation was unusually protracted.
The congregation was represented at the commission by Maxwells Solicitors, Dublin, and by Patrick Hanratty SC, Sara Moorhead SC, and Joseph O'Sullivan BL.
Maxwells has already been paid €2.2 million for its work and the issue that was before the Taxing Master was a further bill of €1,815,668.64 relating to barristers’ fees.
The ruling by Mr O’Neill does not include a computation as to what the commission will now pay for the barristers’ work, but it will be substantially less than what was sought.
In relation to brief fees, which are the fees paid to barristers for preparing for a particular job, the decision reduces the total sought of €658,366 to €204,500.
Mr Hanratty sought brief fees of €75,000 for the Letterfrack module, €85,000 for the Artane module, and €60,000 for a module called phase three.
Ms Moorhead sought brief fees of €75,000 for Letterfrack, €90,000 for Artane, €40,000 for Tralee, and €60,000 for phase three.
Mr O’Sullivan sought brief fees of €50,000 for Letterfrack, €56,600 for Artane, €26,666 for Tralee, and €40,000 for phase three.
The brief fees for the commission hearings relate to 2005 and equivalent figures for similar work today would be substantially higher. Interest is not paid on legal fees that are awaiting taxation.
In his decision, Mr O’Neill not only decided that just one senior counsel brief fee should be paid for each module, he also reduced the fee amounts.
In relation to Letterfrack, he decided the senior counsel brief fee should be €60,000, while the junior counsel should be paid €37,500.
He decided on a brief fee of €50,000 for the senior counsel for the Artane module, and €25,000 for the junior. For the Tralee module he decided on €20,000 and €12,000 as brief fees. He disallowed any brief fees for the phase three sittings.
On refresher fees, which are the fees paid to barristers for each day’s appearance, Mr O’Neill decided that a payment of €2,000 per day for senior counsel, and €1,200 for junior counsel, was reasonable and “reflective of values as of the year 2005”.
The Taxing Master said it appeared the congregation’s legal team believed correspondence with the commission in 2005 constituted approval for the briefing of two senior counsel, but he did not think the letter from the commission “can be relied upon to such effect”.
Proper representation for the congregation only required one senior at any given hearing. “No cogent explanation has been provided as to why two senior counsel were ultimately briefed.”
Mr O’Neill also disallowed payments to six unnamed barristers whom Christian Brother witnesses consulted as they were preparing statements for the commission hearings.
The Taxing Master allowed payments to the barristers for the non-consultation work they did on reviewing and finalising the statements, despite arguments from the commission that this work should be covered by the €660 per statement that had already been paid to the solicitors.
The congregation argued that the payments to the barristers were justified in that there was constant pressure on the Brothers for the production of the statements, with more than 600 complaints having been furnished to the congregation over a five-month period in 2002. The complaints were often complex and had to be fully researched, they said.
Mr O’Neill decided that the barristers should be paid €200 per statement for this non-consultation work. The commission had argued for €132 per statement.
The result of the Taxing Master’s decision in relation to the statements meant that the fees to be paid to the six barristers were reduced to an estimated total of €65,200, from a total sought of €325,129.
The ruling by Mr O’Neill is understood to be the final substantial cost ruling in relation to the commission hearings.