Thursday 15 November 2018

Council disputes solicitors' fees of €2.7m for Lissadell case

Complex case: Eddie Walsh cuts the grass at Lissadell House, Lissadell, Co Sligo
Complex case: Eddie Walsh cuts the grass at Lissadell House, Lissadell, Co Sligo
Lissadell owners Eddie Walsh and Constance Cassidy. Picture: Collins

Tim Healy

Sligo County Council is disputing aspects of a €5m legal costs bill being sought from it by the owners of Lissadell for their marathon action over public rights of way across the historic estate.

The main dispute concerns a total instructions fee for about €2.7m sought by Sligo-based McGovern Walsh & Co Solicitors, solicitors for the owners, barristers Edward Walsh and Constance Cassidy.

An instructions fee of almost €1.4m is being sought for the 58-day High Court case and about €1.3m for instructions relating to the nine-day Supreme Court appeal. The council contends the instructions fee is excessive.

Alan Murphy, legal costs accountant for the owners, told High Court Taxing Master James Behan yesterday the solicitors had played a "heavy" role in the long and complex case and a "crucial" role concerning legal submissions. He may call solicitor Pamela Cassidy to outline the work involved, he indicated.

He also considered the solicitors' role had affected the "more than reasonable" brief fees of €60,000 each sought for two senior counsel, Brian Murray and Eoin McCullough, and €40,000 for junior counsel Peter Bland. The brief fees were similar to those sought by barristers for the council, Mr Behan was told by its legal costs accountant, Paul Conlon.

Agreement was also reached on daily "refresher" fees of €4,000 each for senior counsel and €2,600 for junior counsel.

The owners' case, initiated in 2009, incurred total costs estimated at about €7m.

The Supreme Court had in 2014 ordered the council to pay three-quarters of the legal costs incurred by the owners in the High and Supreme Courts.

The council must also pay its own legal costs bill, estimated at about €2m. Yesterday, a hearing expected to last several days opened before Master Behan to deal with issues arising from the owners' bill of costs. Master Behan is first hearing submissions on behalf of the owners from Mr Murphy.

After those, Mr Conlon will outline the council's response.

Mr Murphy said agreement had been reached on several items in the bill of costs and that included agreement to reduce, allow in full, or deduct in full, a range of items. Mr Conlon said the issues still in dispute included the fees sought by senior and junior counsel.

In their proceedings against the council, the owners had sought declarations there were no public rights of way over four routes in Lissadell.

After their case was rejected by the High Court, they appealed to the Supreme Court which ruled in late 2013 there were no public rights of way over three of the routes but found there was a right of way over part of the fourth route, a coastal route to the beach at Lissadell.

The court later granted the owners three-quarters of their costs in the High and Supreme Courts.

Irish Independent

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