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.


Mr Condon last year successfully defended Sean Fitzpatrick in the longest running criminal trial in the history of the State.

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.

Others include Ian Bailey's lawyer, Frank Buttimer, who received €445,257, and solicitor for Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Staines, who received €447,381.

Michelle Smith de Bruin

Solicitor Jonathan Dunphy, who represented notorious killer Graham Dwyer in his 43-day trial in 2015, received €165,821 in legal aid payments last year.

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

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times