Thursday 21 November 2019

Cutting the State's legal bill

Moves by the State Claims Agency to cut the state's legal costs are welcome but long overdue. The SCA, which handles claims against 54 state bodies, plans to reduce the fees which it pays to barristers by up to 25pc.

The price cut for barristers is modelled on a previous reduction in the fees paid by the SCA to solicitors, which resulted in a 25pc saving to the taxpayer.

As the experience of the Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals, which between them cost at least €400m, has demonstrated, the taxpayer is all too often a soft touch for the legal profession. For far too long there has been a lack of both competition and transparency when the State was purchasing legal services.

At last the SCA seems to be getting serious the state's legal costs. It will operate a new legal costs unit on behalf of the Government. The legal costs unit will manage third-party costs from public inquiries, including the Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals.

Under the new regime there will be set schedule of fees for legal services provided to the SCA. Basically barristers and solicitors will receive a fixed fee per job rather than, as is currently the case, being paid an hourly rate.

Even with the best will in the world, open-ended hourly rates provided barristers and solicitors with little incentive to get a move on. The new system of fixed fees and charges will encourage lawyers to complete their assignments more quickly, saving the hard-pressed taxpayer tens of millions in the process.

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