Sunday 19 January 2020

Barristers seek hike to 'paltry' fees in civil cases

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Barristers are pressing for increased fees in civil cases where plaintiffs receive assistance from the State to pay their legal costs.

In a submission to the Legal Aid Board (LAB), the Bar Council said fees paid under the civil legal aid scheme were "wholly inadequate" for the representation and advice required.

In family law cases taking place over multiple days in the District Court, for example, it said barristers were not being paid for most of their appearances in court.

Notes of a meeting between a Bar Council committee and the LAB reveal the board has agreed to review the terms and condition of the scheme's barrister panel, which have been in force since 2012.

However, any revision will have to be approved by the Government.

The move follows on from a separate lobbying offensive by the legal professions for the reversal of cuts made during the financial crisis to fees paid for work in the criminal courts under criminal legal aid schemes.

The submission by the Bar Council on fees paid under the civil scheme included a report by legal costs accountants Peter Fitzpatrick & Co, which said an examination of current rates pointed to "unfair remuneration".

The report said the 2012 terms provided for recommended hourly rates for some non-court work of €76 and court work of €150. But across child care, judicial separation, divorce and international child abduction cases, work was being paid far below these rates.

"Within the legal services market, I doubt any lower rates can be found," it said.

Under the civil legal aid scheme, people can get advice and representation in civil matters if they are unable to pay for it from their own resources.

Almost €7.4m was paid to barristers and solicitors under the scheme in 2016.

Although it covers a wide variety of civil matters, in reality the vast majority of cases involve divorce, separation, child care, guardianship, child access and custody issues.

As well as complaining about the level of fees being paid, the Bar Council submission said many barristers had experienced "extreme difficulty" receiving "proper payment" from the LAB.

The submission said that in the Circuit Court, the total fee payable for a case was €1,145, with some exceptions, regardless of how many court appearances, interim applications, consultations or requirements for advice there have been.

The submission said the "all in" nature of the fee structure means that a substantial amount of work by counsel is not recognised. It argues this means a substantial amount of work is not paid for or is paid for "on a paltry basis".

Irish Independent

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