Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath has no plans to restore pay to criminal law barristers, claiming there is no evidence that downturn cuts have discouraged people from entering the profession.
The Bar Council of Ireland has called for the urgent restoration of fees paid to criminal law barristers after it emerged that two-thirds abandon a career in criminal law after just six years.
Under Fempi (Financial Emergency Measures in Public Interests) legislation introduced in the aftermath of the financial crisis, professional fees paid to barristers practising criminal law on behalf of the State were cut by between 28.5% and 69%, according to the Bar Council.
Mr McGrath has said he has sought clarity on the matter but has yet to receive evidence that the recruitment and retention issues in the sector are directly linked to pay cuts.
He said he appreciated the "very important work" undertaken by barristers who prosecute criminal work on behalf of the State and his department has engaged the Bar Council of Ireland, the DPP, and the Department of Justice on the matter of pay.
"In particular it has sought evidence to support any claims that the reductions imposed are linked to significant recruitment and retention issues, thereby potentially adversely impacting the administration of justice.
"While my department has not yet been provided with evidential data to support such claims, it remains available to review any further information that may be provided," Mr McGrath said.
"My department has also sought advice from the Attorney General's office as to whether the State has an obligation in relation to these professional fees. My department will continue to keep this issue under review and engage with key stakeholders, as appropriate."
Responding to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond, Mr McGrath added: "The reductions in counsel fees over the period of 2009 to 2011 were underpinned by Government decisions and formed part of a broader Government need to reduce costs across the public service."
The Bar Council said criminal barristers were still receiving the same pay as they were 19 years ago, despite the increasing complexity of criminal cases thanks to increasing volumes of digital evidence.
They say the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has “unilaterally broken” the long-standing link between barristers’ fees and public sector pay agreements by failing to restore pre-crash fees.
Figures published last month show two-thirds of barristers who commence a career in criminal law leave after six years in practice.
Maura McNally, chair of the Council of the Bar of Ireland, said: “While there is a perception that the barristers’ profession is one that is highly remunerated, the fact is that junior barristers appearing in the district court in criminal matters are paid €25 for an appearance and this is often their only fee earned in a day.
“It can take up to 10 years of practice to earn a living as a barrister, which is a further impediment, in particular for those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who do not have access to financial supports to sustain a career at the bar for such an extended period without reaching adequate remuneration.”