Barristers on collision course with State over 20pc cut in pay
Published 11/02/2010 | 05:00
BARRISTERS prosecuting criminal cases are facing another 8pc pay cut, the Irish Independent has learned.
The move would see prosecutors' fees slashed by more than 20pc in two years.
The Bar Council, the representative body for barristers, yesterday met with officials at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to discuss the proposed cuts.
Any reduction in DPP fees would have a knock-on effect because fees paid to defence barristers and solicitors are set according to the level of fees awarded to prosecutors.
The talks, which will continue early next week, come as Justice Minister Dermot Ahern seeks to reduce the State's criminal legal aid bill.
Top earners under the scheme include Senior Counsel Brendan Grehan, who was among a group of lawyers who called on the Government to immediately withdraw legislation to expand the use of the Special Criminal Court to tackle gangland crime last year.
Payments under the scheme, in which the Government provides free legal aid for defendants who cannot afford a lawyer, increased last year by €4.5m to €57.5m.
The increase occurred despite the introduction of a series of measures designed to reduce the cost of the scheme.
Last year, criminal legal aid payments to barristers increased by 2pc from €19.65m to €20.1m.
Payments to solicitors' firms increased by 11pc, from €33.35m to €37.1m.
The annual criminal legal aid bill, which includes a 21.5pc VAT rate, will be dwarfed by payments to lawyers working for NAMA -- estimated at €160m a year for 10 years according to the bad bank's draft business plan.
The Government is determined to reduce the criminal legal aid bill through pay cuts to legal professionals and a mandatory means test for suspects where the DPP opposes legal aid.
Mr Ahern is also considering a controversial tendering system for legal aid work, a system that was recently abandoned in England owing to concerns about access to justice for clients, including suspects and women suffering from the effects of domestic violence.
The legal profession is now set on a collision course with the Government amid concerns that criminal law practitioners will leave the scheme if pay cuts of more than 20pc are imposed on them.
Last November, the DPP James Hamilton said the overall scale of cuts imposed on the bar was "in the order of 14pc" owing to an 8pc pay cut in counsel's fees, the witholding of a 2.5pc pay increase and the discontinuance of a number of other payments.
"It is only fair to acknowledge the spirit in which these cuts have been accepted by the barristers who appear in court on behalf of the office," Mr Hamilton said in his annual report.