Monday 21 January 2019

It's time citizens had real access to justice

Senior barristers still earn up to €1,562 a day in the Central Criminal Court and €858 a day in the Circuit Court. Solicitors earn €750 and €418 a day in the same courts. Stock Image
Senior barristers still earn up to €1,562 a day in the Central Criminal Court and €858 a day in the Circuit Court. Solicitors earn €750 and €418 a day in the same courts. Stock Image
Editorial

Editorial

The economic crash brought us many horrors. But it also brought us some opportunities to fundamentally rethink how we order our affairs. Among the few potential benefits was a chance to reduce professional fees of various kinds.

High on the list of these was the need to review fees commanded by our lawyers and the effect of these fees on ordinary citizens' access to the law courts. The grim reality of life in modern Ireland is that often if a law-abiding citizen is seeking a remedy for what they perceive as unjust treatment, they must risk financial ruin to find that remedy via the court system.

The simple facts are that the fees paid to solicitors and barristers are extraordinarily high. It was a point made repeatedly during the grim economic bailout years by the EU Commission and others.

Yes, lawyers' rates were cut during those recession years. But senior barristers still earn up to €1,562 a day in the Central Criminal Court and €858 a day in the Circuit Court. Solicitors earn €750 and €418 a day in the same courts.

That is money, in the vast majority of cases, paid by the taxpayer to ensure prosecution and defence in the criminal courts. But here's a clue: the lawyers' representative bodies tell us these amounts are far too low. There is far more money to be made in the commercial courts representing business people with deeper pockets. If the taxpayer-funded rates are not increased, the argument goes, the legal sky will fall in upon our criminal justice system.

The reality is many legal rates are just far too high. Lawyers, like all workers, are entitled to be paid.

But, more generally, we must look to the rights of law-abiding citizens to have access to justice.

FF finding its place in odd political landscape

Fianna Fáil was back in the familiar territory of the RDS in Dublin 4 at the weekend for an Ard Fheis which found its delegates in ebullient humour, though understandably a little puzzled.

Long gone are the days when they were either the 'party of government', or the ones waiting out their time on the sidelines to go back into government. So-called 'new politics' has confused everyone, especially party grassroots stalwarts who get their fix at the annual conference.

So, is Fianna Fáil an integral part of Government? Or, a visceral critic of the current Fine Gael-led Coalition? The bad news comes in the very unsatisfactory answer that it is neither one nor the other.

Propping up a government seriously limits opportunities to castigate and condemn it. Against that, the opinion polls tell Micheál Martin and his senior colleagues that they are close in ratings to Fine Gael.

When you consider the "new boy bounce" of Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and the lack of Opposition chances to hammer the Government, that is not bad news at all.

Nobody in this State's history has faced such a political configuration as we have now. Fianna Fáil is trying to stake out a place where public services are prioritised. Fine Gael appears set to champion working people who pay taxes and try to muddle through.

These may well be the battle lines for the next intriguing election.

Irish Independent

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