Legal aid payments to lawyers rose to more than €60m last year

Defence team in Mr Moonlight murder trial shared almost €1m in legal fees for 2019 work

 Patrick Quirke   was found guilty of the murder of Bobby Ryan: the Quirke defence  shared a combined €971,498 last year for all of their legal aid work. Photograph: Collins Courts

Patrick Quirke was found guilty of the murder of Bobby Ryan: the Quirke defence shared a combined €971,498 last year for all of their legal aid work. Photograph: Collins Courts

 

The defence team that represented killer Patrick Quirke (50) in the Bobby Ryan (“Mr Moonlight”) murder trial shared just under €1 million in legal aid payments for all of their defence work in the criminal courts last year.

That is according to new figures which show that legal aid payments to lawyers last year increased by 1.3 per cent from €59.5 million to €60.28 million (all figures include 23 per cent VAT).

The Quirke defence was made up of solicitor Michael Staines, Bernard Condon SC, Lorcan Staines SC and Edward Doocey BL, and they shared a combined €971,498 last year for all of their legal aid work.

The trial was the longest-running murder trial in the history of the State and the new figures released by the Department of Justice show that Michael Staines received €388,572 for his defence work in the criminal courts last year.

The barrister who led the defence team, Bernard Condon SC, received €261,403 in legal aid fees and his colleague, Lorcan Staines SC, received €161,587 in fees. The fourth member of the defence team, Edward Doocey BL, received €159,936. The amount each received for the “Mr Moonlight” trial is not disclosed.

Mr Quirke is serving a life sentence for murder following a trial that gripped the country. The conviction is currently under appeal.

Bobby Ryan (52), a part-time DJ known as “Mr Moonlight”, disappeared on June 3rd, 2011, after spending the night at his girlfriend Mary Lowry’s home in Fawnagown, Co Tipperary.

The barrister who led the prosecution in the “Mr Moonlight” trial, Michael Bowman SC, last year received €156,274 (excluding VAT) for his work in the case.

The legal aid figures show that Mr Bowman received an additional €393,574 (including VAT) for his work defending accused persons in the courts last year.

Legal aid payments to solicitors totalled €36.6 million while payments to barristers totalled €23.68 million, made up of €13.9 million to junior counsel and €9.78 million to senior counsel.

The best paid lawyer in the country in terms of legal aid fees last year was solicitor John M Quinn whose practice received €645,011.

The only other lawyer to receive more than €500,000 was solicitor Michael Hennessy whose practice received €558,321.

The third best paid lawyer was Aonghus McCarthy whose practice received €482,770. The fee represents Mr McCarthy’s practice’s most lucrative year to date on the legal aid scheme and is a 34 per cent increase on the €358,471 legal aid payments received in 2018. According to figures from the Department of Justice, Aonghus McCarthy’s practice has received €1.93 million in criminal legal aid fees from the State over the past seven years.

Well-known Cork-based solicitor Frank Buttimer’s practice last year received legal aid payments of €414,033.

Kriégel case

The barrister who successfully prosecuted Boys A and B for the murder of Ana Kriégel, Brendan Grehan SC, last year received €243,069 for his defence work in the courts. Mr Grehan’s pay for his prosecution work is made separately by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Patrick Gageby SC, who led the defence team for Boy A, received €199,927 for all of his defence work last year.

Damien Colgan SC, who represented Boy B in the case, received €305,115 for all of his legal aid work last year.

The best paid defence barrister in the country last year was Michael O’Higgins SC who received €431,003 followed by Keith Spencer BL who received €394,852.

The figures show that former triple Olympic gold medallist Michelle Smith de Bruin BL last year increased her legal aid earnings to €30,096.

A Department of Justice spokesman said: “Under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962, it is the courts, through the judiciary, that are responsible for the granting of legal aid. An applicant for criminal legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his/her means are insufficient to enable him/her to pay for legal representation for him/herself. The court must also be satisfied that, by reason of the gravity of the charge or exceptional circumstances, it is essential in the interests of justice that the applicant should have legal aid.”

Briefing fees

Rates of pay for Mr O’Higgins and his senior counsel colleagues show that they receive a brief fee of €7,127 for defending a person accused of murder 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 practise 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 10 best paid solicitors in terms of legal aid fees (incl 23% VAT)

John M Quinn €654,011

Michael Hennessy €558,321

Aonghus McCarthy €482,770

Tony Collier €460,391

John O’Doherty €452,429

Kenneth Cunningham €424,310

Tracy Horan €422,417

Sarah Ryan €414,407

Frank Buttimer €414,033

Michael French €413,382

Top 10 best paid barristers in terms of legal aid fees (incl 23% VAT)

Michael O’Higgins SC €431,003

Keith Spencer BL €394, 852

Michael Bowman SC €393,574

Damien Colgan SC €305,115

Mark Nicholas SC €298,272

Seamus Clarke SC €293,251

Cody Coleman SC €293,099

Dominic Stuart McGinn SC €279,545

Hugh Hartnett SC €270,978

Giollaíosa Ó Lideadha SC €270,356