Insurers say 'legal fees for barristers are not falling'
Insurers have rubbished claims by barristers that their fees have fallen by up to 50pc since the recession - as the row deepened over soaring insurance premiums.
The chairman of the Bar Council, David Barniville SC, claimed in recent weeks that legal fees were not to blame for insurance costs.
But Insurance Ireland, which represents the majority of the country's insurance sector, hit back yesterday, questioning the accuracy of claims by the council chairman that barristers' fees had fallen by between 30pc and 50pc since 2008.
In a statement, its chief executive Kevin Thompson said: "Insurance Ireland members have not seen that reduction in their legal costs and the statistics don't back it up."
He also said the body stood over its assertion that the cost of claims, including legal fees, was leading to rising insurance premiums.
Mr Thompson said the increase in the cost and frequency of claims had been well established by the Central Bank, the National Competitiveness Council and the Personal Injuries' Board.
His comments came as Fianna Fáil demanded the introduction of a national claims register to improve transparency by forcing companies to publish anonymised details of every pay-out they make.
But Mr Thompson's remarks ignited a furious row, with the Bar Council swiftly issuing a statement to the Irish Independent saying it stood over its figures.
It cited data from various State agencies, who are the largest users of barristers' services, for the period 2006 to 2013. The council said this data showed professional fees in respect of barristers saw average decreases of between 26pc and 50pc.
In the Dáil last night, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said the economic recovery was partly to blame for the hike in premiums.
"Claims frequency has increased as a result of increased economic activity and increasing miles travelled per car. This is not being counter-balanced by a drop in the number of accidents," he said.
Mr Noonan said consumers were being "directly impacted" by the cost of using the legal system to settle disputes and compensation awards that result.
He indicated Fine Gael will not oppose a motion from Fianna Fáil seeking a taskforce to investigate what is driving prices up.
Mr Noonan said he was open to the idea of a "broad taskforce" but wanted to wait for the outcome of a review of the market that is already under way within his department. It is considering issues such as a National Claims Register that would log all pay-outs whether made in or out of court.
"Accurate timing and accessible information on claims in particular would assist insurers, including new entrants in the Irish market," he said.