Symphysiotomy survivors face solicitors’ bills

Some solicitors charging for unapproved costs from prior litigation, says judge

Retired judge Maureen Harding Clark: critical of “long delays” between acceptance of some symphysiotomy redress offers and payment of awards. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Retired judge Maureen Harding Clark: critical of “long delays” between acceptance of some symphysiotomy redress offers and payment of awards. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Elderly applicants to the State’s redress scheme for survivors of symphysiotomy are facing solicitors’ bills, even though the State pays solicitors directly, according to the judge who assesses awards.

Retired judge Maureen Harding Clark said some solicitors were charging their clients for any costs in prior litigation that were not approved under the scheme’s terms.

However, the scheme provides for the payment of legal fees where a woman employs a solicitor to apply to the scheme and, separately, in respect of previous legal proceedings that have been discontinued.

Symphysiotomy involved cutting the cartilage of a pregnant woman’s pubic bone to widen the birth canal. For many women it left permanent injuries such as incontinence, difficulty walking and chronic pain.

Up to €5,000 in legal fees to cover applications for compensation are payable, which is intended to cover “all costs and outlay” incurred, including legal fees, medical opinion and consultation with a barrister. In addition, the scheme provides for payment of up to €6,000 for legal costs and outlays in proceedings which have been discontinued.

Ms Justice Harding Clark says some applicants have told her they have been asked to pay out of their awards the difference between the legal costs covered by the scheme and additional costs billed by their solicitor.

Women who have made applications under the scheme should be aware of their right to question any amount claimed by legal representatives and that they can refer the bill of costs to the T

axing Master, she said.

Ms Justice Harding Clark said legal costs were a matter between client and solicitor and there was little she could do to assist where a solicitor had in advance of legal proceedings advised a client of the likely costs and had kept the client aware of fees that might not be recoverable.

She was critical of “long delays” between the acceptance of some offers and the payment of awards because of failure to provide timely notice that legal proceedings were being discontinued.

After initial resistance, the take-up for the scheme has proved stronger than predicted. It received 578 applications and 330 awards have been made. Just over half the women received an award of €50,000, 42 per cent got €100,000 and 11 were awarded the maximum of €150,000.

Ms Justice Harding Clark said 131 applications had been found ineligible, including 63 that had been withdrawn.

A further 25 claims were also being ruled ineligible due to a lack of progress of the application.