Lawyer caught with cocaine one of the highest paid legal aid solicitors
Total of €53.68m paid in criminal legal aid to lawyers last year, a rise of 9% from 2016
Solicitor Aonghus McCarthy is one of the best paid criminal legal aid solicitors in the State, new figures show. Photograph: Collins Courts
The solicitor caught with cocaine in his wallet at Mountjoy prison is one of the best paid criminal legal aid solicitors in the country, new figures show.
According to figures from the Department of Justice, Aonghus McCarthy’s practice has received €1.093 million (including VAT at 23 per cent) in criminal legal aid fees from the State over the past five years.
New figures from the department show that the Cork native last year received €287,460 in legal aid fees – putting him among the top 20 best-paid solicitors of the 850 solicitors to receive payments under the criminal legal aid scheme last year.
Mr McCarthy is set to escape a conviction for the possession of the €26 worth cocaine weighing 0.33 grammes at Mountjoy prison after a judge this week accepted the 32-year-old’s explanation that he did not know he was carrying the drug.
In a Garda interview, Mr McCarthy denied owning the cocaine, saying that someone else must have put it in his wallet. He said: “I do not do drugs and I would not risk the entirety of my career.”
Judge Gerry Jones said he would strike out the case next month if Mr McCarthy donated €1,250 to the Merchant Quay drug project.
A conviction would have jeopardised Mr McCarthy’s career as a solicitor.
In the five years since 2013, Mr McCarthy has earned €1.09 million in criminal legal aid payments – reaching a peak of €343,893 in 2016 when he was ranked the seventh best-paid criminal legal aid solicitor in the country.
The 2016 payments compared to €50,003 in 2013. Out of the fees received, Mr McCarthy has to fund the cost of operating an office including payments to staff.
Efforts to contact Mr McCarthy on Friday for comment were unsuccessful.
The overall figures show that last year, a total of €53.68 million was paid in criminal legal aid to lawyers – an increase of 9 per cent on the €49 million paid out in 2016.
Solicitors last year received €32.2 million in fees – an increase of 13 per cent on the €29.3 million paid out in 2016
Payments to barristers last year increased by 8.5 per cent, going from €19.83 million to €21.49 million. 87 senior counsel received €8.8 million and 478 junior counsel received €12.69 million.
The lawyer who received the highest amount of criminal legal aid fees last year was Michael Bowman SC, who received €566,156. The second highest paid was Bernard Condon SC who received €459,291.
Michael O’Higgins SC is currently representing murder accused Patrick Hutch (25) in the Regency murder trial. He was one of five barristers to receive between €300,000 and €400,000 last year when he received €306,642.
Seán Gillane SC is currently leading the prosecution case in the Regency murder trial and last year received €203,141 for defending accused persons. Mr Gillane’s most recent high-profile case was representing Aer Lingus ground handler Frederick Cham (53), who was jailed for four years this week for helping to smuggle people into the country.
Brendan Grehan SC is one of the most high-profile defence barristers in the country and was last year paid €321,510 in legal aid – one of Mr Grehan’s cases last year involved representing Hazel Waters who was jailed for killing her two-year-old son.
The highest paid legal aid solicitor in the country last year was Cahir O’Higgins, who received €486,997. Mr O’Higgins was one of five solicitors to receive in excess of €400,000.
Michelle Smith de Bruin
The figures show that former triple Olympic gold medallist, Michelle Smith de Bruin BL, last year increased her legal aid earnings to €12,912.
A Department of Justice spokesman said yesterday: “Minister Flanagan recognises the constitutional basis for the criminal legal aid scheme. The operation of the scheme is kept under ongoing review.
He said: “The increase in expenditure is mainly due to the fact that in 2017 the total number of Legal Aid certificates issued in the District Courts was 64,181. The number of certificates issued in 2016 was 55,617. In addition, the department has no control over the complexity of cases coming before the courts. Cases heard before the circuit and higher courts attract a significantly higher fee.”
Director of the Law Society Ken Murphy said: “The increase in the total amount paid under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme is due to the volume of cases defended and not an increase in the actual fees per client.
“The resilience and integrity of the criminal legal aid system is being threatened due to long-standing and continued reductions in rates. Severe direct and indirect cuts to the scheme were imposed during the financial crisis and it is the society’s view that the 26 per cent cut to solicitor rates is excessive, damaging to the administration of justice, and needs to be addressed.
“The increased complexity in criminal law practice makes such rates uneconomical and has resulted in practitioners leaving criminal law for other disciplines.”
Rates of pay
Rates of pay for Mr Bowman and his senior counsel colleagues show that they receive a brief fee of €7,127 for defending murder accused in the Central Criminal Court and €1,562 for each subsequent day after the first day.
In relation to their work in the Circuit Court, senior counsel receive a “brief” fee of €1,716, with a subsequent daily fee or refresher fee after the first day of €858.
The largest proportion of barristers practice as junior counsel and they receive a brief fee of €4,752 for a murder trial at the Central Criminal Court along with a refresher or daily fee of €1,041 while junior counsel receive a brief fee of €1,144 in the Circuit Court along with a refresher or daily fee of €572.
Solicitors receive a brief fee of €7,127 for a case in the Central Criminal Court along with a refresher fee of €750 for each subsequent day, while solicitors receive a brief fee of €1,144 for cases in the Circuit Court along with a refresher fee of €418.
However, the majority of a solicitor’s workload takes place in the District Court where they receive a brief fee of €200 for each case.
Top 20 highest paid criminal legal-aid solicitors in 2017 (including 23 per cent Vat)
Cahir O’Higgins €486,997
Michael Hennessy €473,206
Michael Staines €447,381
Frank Buttimer €445,381
Sarah Ryan €424,257
Simon Fleming €399,302
Tony Collier €394,337
Edmund J Burke €385,362
Tracy Horan €369,766
Yvonne Bambury €351,319
Kenneth Cunningham €350,694
Áine Flynn €342,888
Michael E Hanahoe €319,819
Amanda Connolly €300,183
John E Feaheny €287,799
John O’Doherty €287,799
Aonghus McCarthy €287,460
Ciaran Mulholland €285,107
Padraig O’Donovan €279,291
Edward O’Connor €277,789
Top 20 highest paid criminal legal-aid barristers in 2017 (including 23 per cent VAT)
Michael Bowman SC €566,156
Bernard Condon SC €459,291
Colman Cody SC €353,353
Keith Spencer SC €326,387
Brendan Grehan SC €321,510
Michael O’Higgins SC €306,642
Mark Nicholas SC €300,842
Giollaiosa Ó Lideadha SC €294,175
Ciarán O’Loughlin SC €284,262
Brian McInerney BL €277,784
Edward Doocey BL €277,748
Pádraig Dwyer SC €267,731
Seán Guerin SC €254,443
Luigi Rea BL €240,676
Damien Colgan SC €237,875
Hugh Hartnett SC €235,922
Kieran Kelly BL €233,614
Patrick Gageby SC €233,210
Sandra Frayne BL €223,745
Shelley Horan BL €219,264