The withdrawal of labour due to frustration over the level of fees being paid is not something the public easily associates with the legal profession but that is exactly what is happening today, when criminal law barristers protest over the fees they are paid by the Director of Public Prosecutions and under the Legal Aid scheme.
The one-day withdrawal of services has been recommended by the council of the Bar of Ireland, a representative body for barristers, who are famously proud of their sole trader status. It is the latest development in the Bar’s long campaign to reverse cuts introduced in 2008 as part of the State’s response to the financial crisis. The council has referred to the one-day withdrawal of services as an “initial” withdrawal in the campaign for fee restoration.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has said that she is engaged in negotiations on the issue ahead of next week’s budget and cannot say any more ahead of that. She has previously indicated her support for pay restoration. However, it is unclear if the point will be conceded by Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe in the budget package next Tuesday.
The withdrawal of labour comes in the wake of public protests held by the barristers outside courthouses earlier this year. One of the organisers of those protests, barrister Darren Lalor, outlined how barristers in criminal cases in the District Court are paid €25.20 for a remand hearing, €50.40 for a plea in mitigation at a sentence hearing, and €67.50 for a full trial hearing.
These are a long distance from the often eye-watering amounts earned by other members of the profession in the superior courts and in various tribunals, some of which have rightly attracted criticism as being excessive. Proper legal representation at lower criminal court level is a hugely important part of the legal system and the fees that such work currently attracts certainly appear inadequate. What is needed is a rebalancing between incomes at the top of the profession and those more familiar to the average barrister.