Ruadhán Mac Cormaic’s article in the Irish Times this week disclosed that some €139m was paid to Barristers between January 2002 and August 2013. Comments since then can be classed as falling into the “fat cat lawyer” category. The analysis is akin to looking at the high cost of petrol for a voyage where the instructions were to take the long way round. Some commentators have indicated that the payments are an investment in our democracy. There has, however, been little information and/or comment as to the underlying claims and whether or not
(a) They should have been defended,
(b) Whether or not unnecessary sums were paid in defending the indefensible.
It has been my experience that in all cases where the State settle that they always settle late in the day. Late settlements are costly because legal expense will have been incurred in the interim. How many of the cases that these Barristers were involved in, were settled? How many of them could have been settled at an earlier point, before significant fees were incurred?
It astonishes me to see people wronged at the hands of the State, and then to see the State compounding the wrong by denying liability. I am not for one minute suggesting that the State should roll over each time it is sued, but I am suggesting that each time that it is sued correctly, that the State should acknowledge, in appropriate cases, that it has done wrong, and set about making amends as soon as possible. Not alone is that the right and proper approach to adopt, but it is also cost efficient. The focus might now shift to ascertaining why €139m (or some of it) was spent paying lawyers to defend what may well have been indefensible cases. The instructions to do so came from State Departments and/or Ministers. Why?
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* In contentious business, a solicitor may not calculate fees or other charges as a percentage of any award or settlement.