Lawyers on criminal legal aid scheme so far paid more in 2020 despite lockdown

Department paid lawyers brief fees even though all non-urgent criminal cases were adjourned

Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

 

Payments to lawyers on the criminal legal aid scheme have increased this year by 5 per cent to €27.3m – despite the curtailing of court business since March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

New figures provided by the Department of Justice show that for the first five months of this year criminal legal aid payments to solicitors and barristers total €27.3m - compared to €25.9m for the corresponding period in 2019.

The department moved to cushion solicitors and barristers on the criminal legal aid scheme from the economic impact of Covid-19 by paying them their brief fees rather than the standard adjournment fee even though all non-urgent criminal cases were adjourned during lockdown.

As a result, senior counsel and solicitors were paid their brief fee of €7,127 for murder trials that did not proceed during the lockdown and their brief fee of €1,716 and €1,144 respectively for cases in the circuit court that didn’t proceed.

A spokesman for the department stated on Tuesday: “It is important to note that this arrangement does not result in higher fees being paid overall – it effectively only moves forward the date of payment of the full fee to the adjournment phase. The brief fee will not be paid again, at the point when the case comes to trial.”

He stated that the €1.4 million increase in legal aid payments for the first five months “arises from historical claims from firms who have the time to review files and submit outstanding claims and also claims related to the pre-March period”.

The spokesman stated that the department’s practice for the payment of brief fees during lockdown is in keeping with the approach adopted by the Director of Public Prosecutions.