Anomaly raises issue of how justice can be denied, says High Court judge
The fact that the legal costs of deciding a dispute over ownership of €228,000 may exceed €500,000 underlines the “disproportionate” level of legal costs in the High Court and why the recent civil justice review has urged reform of those, a judge has said.
High legal costs have been a serious problem for years and regularly throw up the kind of anomalies that had occurred in this case, Mr Justice Michael Twomey said. This raised serious issues about how access to justice can be denied, including for citizens on average income in the State.
He made the comments when ordering an insolvent company, Tom McEvaddy Properties Ltd, trading as Nexus Homes (in liquidation) – Nexus – to pay €180,000 security of Nama’s legal costs of defending the case, expected to run for four days in the High Court, over the €238,000 sum.
Nama disputes Nexus’ claims it holds the sum on trust for the company.
The disputed sum relates to planning fees paid for the development of a property at Sandyford, Co Dublin, owned by a couple who are the sole shareholders of the company.
While Nama’s legal costs experts estimated its High Court costs at some €231,140, the judge said, in the absence of evidence from a costs expert for Nexus, he would order security for 80pc of that sum.
Assuming the company would incur similar legal costs, the entire costs of the High Court proceedings could be some €460,000, he said. If the outcome was appealed, as most High Court cases are, the ultimate cost of this dispute over €238,000 could be more than €500,000.
He had no reason not to believe expert evidence from Nama as to the current ‘going rate’ for High Court litigation, including €80,465 as the professional fee for the solicitor, €75,020 (including a €36,300 brief fee plus Vat) for senior counsel and €55,962 for junior counsel.
Noting the recent report of the Civil Justice Review group, he said a majority of the group believed high legal costs here could be addressed via non-binding guidelines.
However, he said a minority – supported by the review group’s chair, former High Court president Peter Kelly – maintained that a mandatory scale of maximum costs should be set by an independent committee established under statute.