Over €53m paid in criminal legal aid to lawyers in 2017
Increase in fees attributed to rise in number of cases
Ms Arundel is charged with entering the pensioner’s home and stealing a watch, a mobile phone, a bank card, a cash box and €15 in cash on May 1st. Photograph: iStock
A total of €53.68 million was paid in criminal legal aid to lawyers in 2017 – an increase of 9 per cent on the €49 million paid out the previous year.
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