Friday 21 October 2016

Shane Phelan: Eye-watering cost of law is putting justice out of reach

Published 16/04/2016 | 02:30

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The eye-watering potential legal costs outlined in the dispute between Euro Safety Training Services Ltd and the former State training agency FÁS are further proof - not that it was needed - of the huge fees earned by the legal profession.

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Thanks to a judgment from Mr Justice Max Barrett we have learned that a 20-day trial in the High Court would cost around €600,000 to bring to completion.

Some €220,000 of this would go on solicitors' professional fees.

Senior counsel fees would be €108,500, while junior counsel fees would amount to €71,150.

A short-hand writer would be paid roughly €2,250-a-day.

It is difficult, by any rule of thumb, to justify such fees.

Mr Justice Barrett said the figures highlighted the need for a systematic solution to "crushing" litigation costs.

The case highlights how massive legal costs have become a serious barrier to justice in this country. But the dogs in the street have been barking about this issue for several years.

Anyone attempting a trip down to the High Court either requires very deep pockets or must be willing to risk losing their home.

Mr Justice Barrett noted it would cost 30 times the current annual minimum salary to pay for the proceedings from start to finish. His words draw into focus how much of a missed opportunity the economic crisis was.

When Troika officials visited Dublin during the bailout they expressed amazement at how sheltered the legal services in this country were.

Recent figures published by the Government's competitiveness adviser suggest little has changed, with legal services costs back up around Celtic Tiger levels.

Unfortunately, there are not too many reasons to believe this situation will improve any time soon.

A new regulator is promised but there is considerable scepticism at EU level as to whether this will bring about the increased competition needed to bring down costs.

The European Commission has been studying the topic closely and says it will continue to do so.

It has noted with concern how the ambition of legal services reform in Ireland has been tamed.

Significant concessions were made to the Law Society and Bar Council before the bill allowing for the setting up of the regulator was passed.

The new regulator will need strong leadership if it is to successfully grapple with vested interests and bring about a system where access to justice doesn't cost an arm and a leg.

Irish Independent

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