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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Senior counsel get 'refreshers' of €1,736 per day

Shatter to present package of reforms to cut legal costs this week, at insistence of Troika

JEROME REILLY

SENIOR counsel prosecuting murder cases for the State are being paid €8,000 in brief fees as well as €1,736 'refreshers' for every day the case continues.

In almost all cases in the Central Criminal Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions employs a senior counsel as well as one or more junior counsel.

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Alan Shatter will bring a package of reforms designed to cut legal costs to cabinet for approval, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The new reforms were forced on Government by the EU-ECB-IMF, which demanded reform of how legal services are delivered and regulated in Ireland.

The memorandum of understanding between the troika and the Government referred to recommendations made by the Competition Authority in 2006 that have mostly gathered dust in the Department of Justice since. That five-year-old report said restrictive practices and limitations on competition were artificially inflating legal costs.

Another more recent report on the cost of doing business in Ireland by the National Competitiveness Council and Forfas released last year also suggested reforms including scrapping the practice of allowing junior counsel fees at two-thirds that of senior counsel and the creation of a single-tier counsel system.

The current brief fee for junior counsel in the Circuit Court is €1,272. The brief fee paid to junior counsel in the Central Criminal Court is €4,225 in rape cases and €5,280 in murder cases, Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed in the Dail.

As well as brief fees and daily 'refreshers', barristers prosecuting criminal cases for the State are also paid sentence fees and bail fees. The current sentence fee for junior counsel is €274. A bail fee of €196 for junior barristers is also payable for hearings where the defendant applies for bail and the application is contested.

Ironically, the new package of reforms to reduce legal costs goes to Cabinet for approval just days into the new legal year, as the full weight of new increases in court fees begins to be felt.

The Courts Service were forced to bring in the new increased charges following demands from the Department of Finance.

The across-the-board increases start at 8.3 per cent. However, the cost of applying for special licences for licensed premises in an area for special events like festivals has gone up from €135 to €750 -- a 455 per cent hike.

A spokesman for the Courts Service told the Sunday Independent: "As part of the Annual Estimates process for 2011, the level of court fee income to be generated by the Courts Service was increased by the Department of Finance. To enable the Courts Service meet the level of fee income required it has been necessary to increase the level of court fees charged on a range of transactions and services."

The spokesman defended the increases in the cost of applying for special licences when a festival or similar event is taking place.

"While it is a significant increase, it was in part catching up with the previous increase applied to Special Exemptions and also recognising that Area Exemption Orders covered several licensed premises," he said.

Sunday Independent

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