Legal fees cut in Reynolds case

 

A decision by a High Court Taxing Master to reduce the fees of the solicitor who acted for Fr Kevin Reynolds by almost 70 per cent is likely to set an important precedent for future decisions on legal costs.

Taxing Master Declan O’Neill cited the economic downturn and the resulting decrease in professional fees as factors in his decision to lop almost €200,000 from the fees sought by Co Meath solicitor Robert Dore.

Mr Dore, who took on Fr Reynolds’s case after the priest was defamed in the Prime Time Investigates programme last May, had claimed an instruction fee of €275,000. But Mr O’Neill, in his first high-profile decision since being appointed by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter last December, cut this to €80,000. The fees claimed by counsel in the case were reduced by 60 per cent.

The political controversy surrounding the Mission to Prey programme continued yesterday, with Independent TD Mattie McGrath calling on RTÉ chairman Tom Savage to resign over his role in the affair.

Mr McGrath made his call during questioning of RTÉ executives at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, where Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív called for an independent review of all current affairs broadcasting by RTÉ over the past year.

Mr Savage told the committee he still didn’t understand why, after all the investigations into the programme, it was broadcast. The programme falsely alleged Fr Reynolds had abused an under-age girl in Kenya and fathered a child by her.

Mr Savage described the controversy as “the gravest editorial crisis that RTÉ has experienced in a generation, and perhaps since the establishment of television 50 years ago”.

Director general Noel Curran revealed RTÉ was never asked to waive legal privilege during the investigation ordered by the authority.

Defending the broadcaster’s investigative work, he said the scandal of the Leas Cross nursing home would never have been uncovered without the undercover techniques used by the Prime Time Investigates team. However, secret filming and doorstepping should only be used where there was an “absolute fear” that people would not make themselves available for interview.

The programme is the subject of two further legal actions. Mr Dore, who is involved in both these actions, had argued in his claim for the Fr Reynolds case that it occupied an enormous amount of his time for six months last year. He claimed the case involved very serious responsibility and complex issues and that he had to prosecute it at great speed.

He wanted to read the judgment last night before commenting.

Mr O’Neill noted that apart from correspondence, the solicitor’s file was relatively small and could not justify the fee. He described the work as not particularly complex.

His ruling also pointed out that the case had originally been with another firm of solicitors, Fair Murtagh, who wrote the first letters to RTÉ requesting that the programme not be broadcast. Their professional fee for representing Fr Reynolds up to June 17th 2011, a month after the broadcast, was €2,000.

Mr O’Neill also considered the brief fees charged by counsel. These were €65,000 each for the two senior counsel, Frank Callanan and Jack Fitzgerald, and €43,500 for the junior counsel, Miriam Reilly, which is two-thirds of the fee sought by senior counsel.

The charging of two-thirds of the senior counsel fees by junior counsel will be outlawed by the Legal Services Regulation Bill and is already stated by the Bar Council not to be its policy. Additional fees were charged for consultations and drafting.

The Taxing Master allowed €26,000 and €20,000 in brief fees for the senior and junior counsel.

A Taxing Master became involved in adjudicating on costs in this case by order of the court. Taxing Masters provide an independent and impartial assessment of legal costs.