Criminal legal aid bill costs state €54m

SOLICITORS and barristers earned €54.3 million between them last year through providing state-funded criminal legal aid, according to figures from the Department of Justice.

The huge earnings represents a drop of around €4m compared to the figure for 2009, but still means six solicitors earned sums over €750,000.

Top of the earning table was Yvonne Bambury, who was paid €920,529. In second place behind the Smithfield-based solicitor was Frank Buttimer, whose practice is in Cork city. Mr Buttimer, who has acted for clients including Ian Bailey and Wayne O’Donoghue, earned €866,000 last year.

Third highest earning solicitor was Michael Hanahoe on €813,469. Nine of the top 10 earners in the solicitors’ list made more than €700,000 in 2010.

The highest earning barrister was Brian McInerney, who is based in Limerick and who was paid almost €414,000. Most recently he has acted as defence barrister for a Garryowen man, Jonathan Fitzgerald, in a murder case, in which he has pleaded not guilty.

The second highest earning barrister was Michael J Bowman, with €366,382, and then Kieran Kelly with €329,542.

A total of 900 solicitors and 630 barristers were paid for providing criminal legal aid last year. While there has been a fall in the cost of the scheme, it has only resulted in spending falling to levels similar to that in 2008.

When figures were published in January last year, then Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern expressed concern at the rising cost, which had been achieved despite measures introduced designed to reduce the cost.

A 2.5% reduction was introduced on January 1, 2009, although in effect it simply removed an increase paid on September 1, 2008, and put fees back to August 2008 levels. Another 8% reduction was imposed on March 12, 2009, in line with the Government measures on professional fees, but the legal bill still rose.

It has now fallen slightly, though legislation has been drafted where criminal legal aid will be means tested where the gardaí or DPP object to it being granted. Up to now the scheme has been universally available.

Top criminal legal aid earners — solicitors:

- Yvonne Bambury, €920,529

- Frank Buttimer, €866,005

- Michael Hanahoe, €813,469

Top criminal legal aid earners — barristers:

- Brian McInerney, €413,860

- Michael J Bowman, €366,382

- Kieran Kelly, €329,542

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