Taxpayers face €1.25m legal bill for board set up to slash payouts
THE agency set up to cut the cost of compensation cases by avoiding litigation, lawyers or legal fees was forced to rely on state funding to pay for a landmark challenge to its lawyer-free policy.
Two years ago, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, now known as InjuriesBoard.ie, lost a lengthy Supreme Court battle over its previous policy of refusing to deal directly with claimants' solicitors where they had engaged legal representation.
The board now corresponds with injury victims' solicitors.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the Injuries Board received €1.25m from the Department of Enterprise to cover its legal costs in defending the judicial review action taken against it by Declan O'Brien, an injured meat factory worker.
The funding for the case, which was lost by the board, was provided in state grants following advice from the office of the Attorney General.
The board, which spent €970,209 in 2008 on branding and awareness campaigns, has recorded in its latest annual accounts (2008) that its overall judicial review costs -- almost half of which will be reimbursed by the State for the O'Brien case -- stand at some €1.95m, with separate legal fees of €179,742.
Earlier this week, the board welcomed a decision by Mr O'Brien's solicitors to withdraw objections to a reduction in legal fees in the case by 82pc, down from €2.1m to €393,472.
The decision to withdraw an on objection to an earlier ruling of the Taxing Master of the High Court, who described the fees as "revolting in the extreme", now means that the board will pay its own legal team €200,000 more in fees than the winning side.
The total costs incurred by the board's solicitors and barristers, including former attorney general Eoghan Fitzsimons, amounted to €588,000, compared to the €397.472 awarded to Mr O'Brien's legal team.
This comprised €314,000, including outlays and VAT paid to the board's solicitors, and €274,000 paid to a junior counsel and two senior counsel who represented the board.
The board said it would not be seeking a reduction in its own legal costs arising from the O'Brien case and said it rejected any attempt to make a direct comparison between the costs as its legal team also had to deal with legal submissions made by the Law Society, which appeared as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case.
"The board is satisfied that the fees charged by its legal advisers properly reflected the work which its advisers carried out," said a spokesperson.
The department told the Irish Independent that provision was made as part of the estimates process to ensure funds were available to meet legal costs that arise in respect of the department and some of the bodies under its aegis.
Examples of bodies for which specific provision is made in respect of legal costs are the Injuries Board, Labour Court, Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Employment Appeals Tribunal.