Saturday 23 November 2019

Shatter firm's disputed bill tops €500,000

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE divorce bill contested by a former client of Justice Minister Alan Shatter exceeded €500,000, the Irish Independent has learned.

Details of the amount emerged last night after the Irish Independent revealed how Gallagher Shatter, the prestigious legal practice co-founded by Mr Shatter, was involved in a dispute with the former client over a bill issued by the firm.

The discord over costs arose following one of the most expensive and complex divorce cases ever before the courts in Ireland.

The revelation comes as Mr Shatter, who left the firm when he was appointed Justice Minister in March, is in the process of finalising radical plans to tackle legal costs and reform the legal profession.

After barristers' fees and VAT were added, the original bill issued by Gallagher Shatter to its former client for work -- which included a lengthy custodial battle and other proceedings -- exceeded €500,000.

It also included extensive advisory work carried out by Mr Shatter and work done by another senior solicitor who has since left the firm.

Earlier this year, the taxing master of the High Court, who adjudicates disputes on legal fees, noted that no time records had been kept by Gallagher Shatter to "assist the evaluation process".

He said this presented a "considerable difficulty" in enabling him to provide a transparent ruling.

"There is no other tangible method of cost accounting employed and that presents a considerable difficulty in enabling me [to] provide a ruling that is transparent, containing an end result that natural justice remains sacrosanct and the paying party knows why it is that a particular amount has been awarded," said the taxing master.

In the ruling, the taxing master also warned that the system of assessing legal fees would not be transparent unless reforms were introduced.

The ruling, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, was issued on March 22, less than two weeks after Mr Shatter was appointed to the Cabinet.

Responding to queries by the Irish Independent, Gallagher Shatter said that time spent dealing with a legal issue or court proceedings was one of the factors determining the assessment of costs, but not the sole factor.

"Lest there be any doubt, substantial time was recorded in respect of the matter queried," said the firm.

And Gallagher Shatter said that it could not address substantive issues in the case owing to the need to protect client confidentiality.

It also said the taxing master accepted that a time costing was not a legal requirement.

Details of the family law matter itself and the costs hearings cannot be revealed owing to the 'in camera' rule governing family law proceedings.

However, the Courts Service confirmed yesterday that the ruling was a public document as long as details of the parties were excluded.

The taxing master, who ruled in 2009 that Gallagher Shatter had not attempted to exaggerate its costs, had previously reduced Gallagher Shatter's professional fees by €30,000 from an original €315,000 (excluding outlays and VAT).

Gallagher Shatter, which has previously sued some former clients for non-payment of fees, withdrew from the divorce case in 2007. The client then continued the case without legal representation.

But the dispute over Gallagher Shatter's costs is ongoing, and both the firm and the client have been invited to make further legal submissions to the taxing master about his rulings.

Irish Independent

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