The legal practice operated by high-profile solicitor Frank Buttimer received the highest amount in criminal legal aid payments last year, securing €709,667 (incl Vat) in fees.
Figures released by the Department of Justice show Ian Bailey’s lawyer’s Cork practice was ranked the highest paid for the fourth year running.
The €709,667 received last year followed the Cork man receiving €757,678 in 2013; €714,865 in 2012, and €889,659 in 2011.
The department figures released yesterday show Mr Buttimer’s practice received €155,000 more than the practice of solicitor Cahir O’Higgins, who received the second highest amount at €554,525.
Five solicitors work at Mr Buttimer’s practice and all are on the criminal legal aid panel.
In total, solicitors and barristers received just under €49.89m through the criminal legal aid scheme last year — a 2% drop on the €50.86m received in 2013.
The Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, said yesterday “the State does get value for money from the scheme”.
The figures show 887 solicitors last year received €27.97m, with 510 junior counsel receiving €11m, and 93 senior counsel sharing €7.36m in fees.
The best-paid barrister last year through criminal legal aid was Michael Bowman, who only became a senior counsel last year. Mr Bowman received €352,391.
Only one other barrister received over €300,000. Giollaiosa O’Lideadha SC received €313,624.
Rates of pay for Mr Bowman and his senior counsel colleagues show they receive a brief fee of €7,127 for defending murder accused in the Central Criminal Court and €1,562 for each subsequent day after the first day.
In relation to their work in the circuit court, senior counsel receive a ‘brief’ fee of €1,716, with a subsequent daily fee or refresher fee after the first day of €858.
The largest proportion of barristers practise as junior counsel and they receive a brief fee of €4,752 for a murder trial at the Central Criminal Court, along with a refresher or daily fee of €1,041.
Junior counsel receive a brief fee of €1,144 in the circuit court, along with a €572 refresher or daily fee.
Solicitors receive a brief fee of €7,127 for a case in the Central Criminal Court, along with a refresher fee of €750 for each subsequent day, while solicitors receive a brief fee of €1,144 for cases in the Circuit Court, along with a refresher fee of €418.
However, the majority of a solicitor’s workload takes place in the district court, where they receive a brief fee of €200 for each case.
In a statement accompanying the figures, Frances Fitzgerald said: “The nature of Criminal Legal Aid is that it is demand-led and is driven by the incidence of crime, detection rates and prosecution of cases through the courts system.
“Expenditure on Criminal Legal Aid has been decreasing since 2009, apart from a slight increase in 2013.
“The State does get value for money from the scheme – our fee levels compare with international levels and the system works well to ensure that people who cannot afford a solicitor have access to representation in their defence which is integral to a fair and equitable justice system.”
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