Legislation targets high legal bills

PROPOSED legislation to deal with grossly excessive legal bills is to be introduced sometime next year.

Speaking in the Dáil, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan confirmed that the Judicial Council Bill, which provides for the regulation and assessment of legal costs, is to be brought forward and will be published by the end of the year.

Ms Coughlan was responding to a question from Labour Party justice spokesman Pat Rabbitte, following a ruling from Taxing Master Charles Moran who granted just €393,472 of a €2.1 million legal bill.

A report in Thursday’s Irish Times outlined how Mr Moran had expressed his “disgust and bewilderment” at the level of costs claimed.

The Taxing Master provides an independent and impartial assessment of legal costs incurred by an individual or company involved in litigation. The position holds the same status as a High Court judge.

Mr Moran’s decision to grant just 18% of the amount sought came in a case involving a solicitors firm in Newbridge in Kildare, Patrick V Boland & Son, and four barristers Paul Gardiner SC, Dan Boland BL, Cormac McNamara BL and former attorney general Harry Whelehan SC.

“In my 15 years as Taxing Master or indeed in all my years involved in litigation, I have never encountered such grossly excessive fees being marked by learned counsel or solicitors,” he said.

Mr Moran went on to say that he could hardly “find the words strong enough to describe my disgust and bewilderment at the level of these costs being claimed”.

The case involved an injured party, Declan O’Brien, and the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) and the fees were those charged by the team representing Mr O’Brien.

Labour justice spokesman, Pat Rabbitte, described the level of legal fees charged as “unjustifiable”.

“This is an unconscionable situation at a time when every other section in society has endured cuts. A certain sheltered professional class which apparently has no regard for the environment in which we live is extorting extraordinary and unjustifiable fees. The Government needs to address the issue,” he said.

Speaking on RTÉ radio, chief executive of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, Patricia Byron, said the PIAB felt that costs charged to the board on foot of the case were excessive.

“For that case a bill came in for €2.1 million. I suppose for a board that is particularly focused on containing costs and getting value for money, we felt that we weren’t satisfied this was a justified figure and we wanted it examined by the Taxing Master.”


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