Wednesday 24 January 2018

Solicitors 'unable' to give Army deafness bill copies

Anne-Marie Walsh

THREE Army deafness claimants had to ask the Chief State Solicitor's office for a copy of their legal bill because their own solicitor was "unable" to supply the information.

It has been revealed that four former soldiers contacted the Department of Defence amid fears of double charging by solicitors because they could not obtain their bills of cost.

Of these, the Department had to obtain the bill of costs from the Chief State Solicitors' office in three cases, before sending the information about their fees to them.

The Department of Defence said that the legal representatives in these cases "were unable to supply the information sought".

Double charging

To date, the Department has received 152 complaints against solicitors for alleged double charging over Army deafness claims.

The complaints came after some claimants noticed that their solicitors had made reductions to their settlements for fees that should have been paid by the Defence Department.

It followed the revelation earlier this year that some solicitors overcharged clients who were victims of sex abuse and had appeared before the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

The sums soldiers may have been overcharged could be considerable as Defence Minister Willie O'Dea's department paid an estimated ?100m in legal fees on behalf of all successful litigants.

Solicitors have claimed since the bills were over five years old, the claims could not be legally pursued - due to the time limits in the Statute of Limitations.

However, Mr O'Dea said the Law Society has power to order a solicitor to repay any excessive amount charged. He said he had been in recent contact with the society and that it said it was anxious to investigate the complaints.

Labour's justice spokesperson Joe Costello said there is an urgent need for an independent investigation into the legal loopholes used by solicitors to avoid transparent practices.

"Why did these solicitors not produce the bill of costs and how did they get paid without a bill of costs?" he asked yesterday.

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