Buttimer firm tops legal aid money list
HIGH-profile Cork solicitor Frank Buttimer's practice has topped the payments made to barristers and solicitors last year under the criminal legal aid scheme.
Mr Buttimer's practice -- which has represented Ian Bailey in his court battle against extradition to France for questioning over the death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, as well as Wayne O'Donoghue, who was convicted in 2005 of the manslaughter of schoolboy Robert Holohan -- took in €889,659.
The overall amount spent by the Government dropped slightly last year to €56.1m, down from €56.5m in 2010.
However, it was well in excess of the €47.6m allocated for the services in the December 2010 budget for people deemed by courts to qualify for legal aid in criminal trials.
The Justice Department said the full effects of cost-cutting measures to the legal aid bill were expected to be felt later this year. Among the measures were a 10pc reduction in fees, the halving of travel and subsistence payments, and the reduction of fees to interpreters and expert witnesses.
The amount paid out to barristers and solicitors' practices, inclusive of VAT, was €52.4m. The total spend mounted to €56.1m in 2011 when additional expenses such as expert witnesses and interpretation costs were taken into account.
In comparison, the bill solely to legal practitioners, excluding additional costs, in 2010 stood at €54.2m. Solicitors earned slightly less at €33m last year, down from €33.9m in 2010.
"The nature of the scheme is that it is demand-led and is driven by the incidence of crime, detection rates and prosecution of cases through the courts system," a spokeswoman for the department said.
"While this makes it difficult to control costs, the minister has to manage the limited funds available to his department across all areas of the criminal justice system, including criminal legal aid."
The top five solicitor practices earned €3.9m, while the five highest earning barristers took in €1.9m.
The second-highest earning solicitor was the Dublin-based practice of Yvonne Bambury, which took in €789,364, with Michael E Hanahoe's firm coming in third at €776,168.
The Limerick-based junior counsel Brian McInerney once again topped the payments to barristers earning €428,191.