Friday 24 January 2020

Injury claims costs to soar as barrister limit dropped

Excessively high legal costs were flagged up in the mid-1980s. Stock photo: PA
Excessively high legal costs were flagged up in the mid-1980s. Stock photo: PA
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

The cost of personal injury cases is set to rise after barristers dropped a 30-year-old undertaking to limit the number of senior counsel involved.

The head of legal services at the State Claims Agency (SCA), David Mack, told the Oireachtas Justice Committee that barristers "unilaterally" withdrew from the undertaking to have just one senior counsel in injury claims cases.

"Excessively high legal costs in personal injury litigation were flagged during an earlier pressure point in the mid-1980s," Mr Mack said.

This, he explained, led to moves to contain costs.

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Legislation was enacted to end the practice of briefing two senior counsel and one junior counsel in personal injury cases.

Mr Mack said the barristers' representative body, then called the Bar Council, had agreed at the time that no more than one senior counsel and one junior would act on the plaintiff side.

"An undertaking in these terms was provided to the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the relevant statutory provisions were left in abeyance," he said.

"The undertaking has since been withdrawn unilaterally by the Bar of Ireland on the grounds it is anti-competitive."

Since the Bar's move, only a small number of catastrophic injury claims have gone ahead with two senior counsel.

But in a recent ruling, the Taxing Master, who adjudicates in disputes over costs, said that claims for two senior counsel and one junior counsel are likely to become more frequent as the precedent becomes more established.

The fear now is that the re-emergence of the practice of having two seniors and one junior on cases will result in higher costs.

A spokesperson for the Law Library of Ireland disputed Mr Mack's claims.

They said that it was incorrect to state that the Bar of Ireland had "unilaterally" acted on this matter.

"The undertaking referred to by the State Claims Agency was given more than 30 years ago, in 1987/1988, and preceded the Competition Act 2002," the spokesman said.

"No communication has been issued to members on this matter.

"And The Bar of Ireland is not in a position to enforce the 30-year-old undertaking, as we have been advised that it is...considered anti-competitive in law."

Irish Independent

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