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Criminal legal aid payouts fall but still total €54m

PAYOUTS to lawyers under Ireland's criminal legal aid scheme have declined despite an increase in the number of solicitors earning under the scheme.

In 2009, five Dublin solicitor firms received payments of more than €1m, but last year no firm in the country received more than €1m.

The figures show that six firms received between €750,000 and €950,000 -- with the top earning solicitor being Yvonne Bambury, who received €921,529.

The country's top earning barrister under the scheme was Limerick-based Brian McInerney, who received €413,860.

Payments to the country's barristers and solicitors through the criminal legal aid scheme last year totalled €54.2m.

This compares to some €260m a year NAMA will spend on professional advisers, including barristers and solicitors.

The criminal legal aid payments represent a 5.7pc or €3.3m decrease on the highest ever aggregate payout to lawyers totalling €57.5m in 2009.

The figures also show that high-profile Cork solicitor Frank Buttimer received the second highest amount at €866,005.

The figures, released yesterday by the Department of Justice, also show that one of the top earning barristers was Brendan Grehan SC, who led the defence in the Eamonn Lillis murder trial last year where Lillis was convicted of the manslaughter of his wife Celine Cawley.

Six barristers earned between €300,000 and €400,000 with 12 receiving between €200,000 and €300,000.

Solicitors received a total of €33.9m in criminal legal aid payments last year -- an 8.6pc or €3.2m decrease on the €37.1m paid out in 2009.

The drop in legal aid payments -- inclusive of VAT -- comes in spite of the numbers of solicitors receiving payments through the legal aid scheme increasing from 871 in 2009 to 900 last year.

The figures show that aggregate payments to the 630 barristers participating in the scheme dropped marginally last year from €20.4m to €20.3m.

The decrease in payments to lawyers follows an 8pc cut to lawyers' fees in the criminal legal aid scheme last year, which followed a previous 8pc cut in 2009 and a cancellation of a cost of living increase.

Arising from last year's 8pc cut in fees, a senior counsel now receives a 'brief' or case fee of €7,919 for taking on a murder case in the Central Criminal Court -- this covers preparatory work and the first day in court. In rates for each subsequent day, senior counsel will receive a 'refresher fee' of €1,736.

Irish Independent