Legal aid scheme payments up by nearly 20% last year

Top earner in scheme received almost €700k excluding payments for prosecution work

A lawyer who represented a string of accused persons in high profile criminal cases last year received almost €700,000 in criminal legal aid payments new figures show.

Michael Bowman SC is the most in-demand criminal defence lawyer in the country and last year on average earned €13,309 per week in criminal legal aid payments for his defence work in the courts.

The €692,095 that Mr Bowman received last year follows the lawyer receiving €659,358 in 2020. All of the figures include VAT at 23 per cent.

During 2021, Mr Bowman represented Deirdre Morley (44) of Parson’s Court, Newcastle, Dublin who was last May found not guilty by reason of insanity of murdering her three young children, Conor McGinley (9) and Darragh McGinley (7), and Carla McGinley (3) in her home in January 2020.

Mr Bowman also represented Darren Redmond (27), from Caledon Road, East Wall, Dublin who received a prison term of 18 years with the last three years suspended for his role in the abduction and causing serious harm to businessman, Kevin Tunney.

Mr Bowman also represented the State in Patrick Quirke’s (53) unsuccessful appeal against his murder conviction of Bobby Ryan, known as ‘Mr Moonlight’. Mr Bowman receives separate fees from the DPP for his prosecutorial work.

The new figures show that solicitors and barristers on the legal aid scheme last year received payments totalled €68.18 million — an increase of 18.7per cent on the €57.42m paid out in 2020.

The figures show that solicitors shared €40.28 million while senior counsel received €10.48 million and junior counsel received €17.42 million.

The detailed breakdown shows that the only other two barristers to receive in excess of €500,000 last year — Patrick Dwyer SC who received €599,488 and Keith Spencer BL who received €550,001.

The only other barrister to receive in excess of €350,000 was Colman Cody SC who received €389,221.

The figures provided by the Dept of Justice show solicitor, John M Quinn’s practice last year received the highest amount amongst solicitors in criminal legal aid payments at €746,012.

The only other two solicitors to receive in excess of €500,000 are Dublin based solicitor, Michael Hennessy who received €683,602 and Aonghus McCarthy who received €591,304.

The legal practice operated by top criminal lawyer, Cahir O’Higgins received just over €291,955 in criminal legal aid payments last year.

Mr O’Higgins is currently on bail concerning an assault causing harm charge from February 11th 2021.

The figures also show that Ian Bailey’s long-time lawyer Frank Buttimer received €467,171 in criminal legal aid payments.

Under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, senior barristers command ‘brief’ fees of €7,127 for defending murder accused in the Central Criminal Court and €1,562 for each subsequent day after the first day.

Sharp rise

The surge in criminal legal aid pay last year took place due in part to a sharp rise in legal certificates issued reflecting increased court work.

A spokeswoman at the Dept of Justice confirmed that there were 80,831 Legal Aid certificates issued in 2021 compared with 73,611 issued in 2020 — a rise of 7,220 or 10 per cent.

The spokeswoman said that there was an under-spend of €3.1 million in 2020 and the processing of claims from 2020 were delayed owing to COVID restrictions in the offices of the Courts Service.

Dublin based solicitor, Michael Hennessy said recently: “Solicitors and barristers were essential workers throughout the pandemic and provided daily legal services despite lockdown and at a rate of pay which was reduced by 40 per cent during austerity and which has remained at that level since.”

Mr Hennessy said: “Where there was a no-fault backlog from 2020, with new cases inevitably arising in 2021 and in consideration of the work put in by the lawyers, any ostensible spike in payments is more apparent than it is real.”

A number of barristers protested this week at the Courts of criminal Justice over the level of fees paid to them under the criminal legal aid scheme.

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times