The cost of the free legal aid scheme has fallen by 10% after three separate reductions in rates paid to solicitors and barristers.
According to figures supplied by Alan Shatter, the justice minister, the cost to date in 2012 is €46.16m which, according to Mr Shatter, “represents a welcome decrease of approximately 10% over the same period in 2011”.
In a written Dáil response, Mr Shatter said: “A number of measures aimed at achieving greater efficiencies in criminal proceedings are being implemented in collaboration with the relevant agencies and with cooperation from legal practitioners.”
The cost of the scheme last year and in 2010 remained at €56m.
However, cuts introduced last year has resulted in the decrease for 2012. The criminal legal aid bill in 2009 was €60.3m.
The cuts last year included:
* A 10% reduction in fees;
* Re-structuring of district court fees;
* A 50% reduction in travel and subsistence payments;
* A 50% reduction in the rate paid for sentence fees in respect of adjourned sentence hearings in the circuit and higher courts.
These measures came into effect during the third and fourth quarters of 2011 and their full effect is reflected in the 2012 reduction.
A spokeswoman for the Bar Council — the body that represents barristers — warned of the impact of any further cuts.
“Any further cuts to criminal legal aid rates would damage the quality of representation given to those availing of criminal legal aid services.
“Members of the bar accept that savings have had to be made in all aspects of public spending.
“The cuts to criminal legal aid rates payable to barristers since 2008 has been over 32%, which has had a drastic impact on the incomes of many barristers who earn an income from such work and have to absorb all the costs of running a practice as well.
“Criminal trials have also become more complex in recent years and the additional work involved has had to be done on lower rates of payment.”
After cuts to their fees, senior counsel currently receive a brief fee of €1,716 for taking on cases in the circuit court and a refresher fee of €858.
A brief fee covers preparatory work and the first day in court and for each subsequent day, a barrister receives the ‘refresher’ fee.
In relation to murder cases in the Central Criminal Court, senior counsel receive a brief fee of €7,127 and a refresher fee of €1,562.
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