HIGH-profile solicitor Frank Buttimer was the best paid legal-aid lawyer in the country last year, taking in more than €700,000 in payments under the scheme.
Figures from the Department of Justice show that Ian Bailey's lawyer received €714,864 – Mr Buttimer also received the highest amount in 2011, when he received €889,659.
The payment received by Mr Buttimer formed part of the €29.3m received by 963 solicitors last year – a drop of 11pc on the €33m paid to solicitors in 2011.
Mr Buttimer has been involved in a number of high-profile cases including defending Wayne O'Donoghue, who was convicted in 2006 of the manslaughter of 11-year-old Cork schoolboy Robert Holohan, while Mr Buttimer also recently successfully defended Paschal Carmody against deception charges.
Solicitors and barristers last year absorbed the largest ever annual cut in criminal legal aid payments, with the total expenditure on the scheme down 10pc to €50.5m.
The figures show that Luigi Rea BL was the best-paid barrister through the scheme in 2012, when he received €415,972.
In total, barristers received €17.6m – a drop of 8pc on the €19m they received in 2011.
The figures show that 517 junior counsel shared €11.1m, with 85 senior counsel receiving €6.5m.
Along with payments to lawyers, there were also witness expense costs and interpretation costs paid from the criminal legal aid scheme.
Among those who received payments was former Olympian Michelle Smith de Bruin BL, who was paid €21,041.
The figures confirm that three solicitors received over €500,000 through the scheme: Frank Buttimer, Cahir O'Higgins and Michael E Hanahoe, with six receiving in excess of €400,000: Yvonne Bambury, John M Quinn, Michael Staines, Edmund Burke, John Feaheny and Ronald Lynam.
A further nine solicitors received amounts between €300,000 and €400,000 with 12 getting between €200,000 and €300,000 and another 50 were paid sums between €100,000 and €200,000.
Limerick-based barrister, Brian McInerney, received the second highest sum among counsel at €368,097.
Two other counsel, Giollaiosa O Lideadha and Sean Gillane, received in excess of €300,000.
A further eight counsel received sums in excess of €200,000 and they include barrister Brendan Grehan, who recently prosecuted Patrick O'Brien who was convicted of raping his daughter, Fiona Doyle.
The Department of Justice yesterday said that the last year's "reduction in the annual expenditure is the largest ever recorded and represents a fall of €10m, or 16pc, over the peak recorded in 2009".
A spokeswoman said: "It should be noted that the VAT rate increased by 2pc from January 2012 which meant that some savings were absorbed by the VAT increase.
She said: "The reductions follow savings measures introduced by the Minister including cuts to fees from July and October 2011."
Director general of the Law Society, Ken Murphy, said yesterday: "There is no potential for further cuts to rates.
"The barrel has been scraped dry by the 2011 cuts and we are getting close to a stage where it will be unremunerative for solicitors to participate in the criminal legal aid scheme."