Bar Council ‘should be slapped with €2m bill for Law Library premises or evicted’

Bar Council 'should be slapped with €2m bill for Law Library premises or evicted'

The Bar Council of Ireland should be slapped with a €2 million bill and asked to pay market rent for the continued use of the Law Library building at the Four Courts or be evicted to make way for a family courts complex, a barrister has said.

Eugenie Houston, a practising barrister “who is independent of the Bar of Ireland and is not a member of the Law Library”, has instructed Belfast-based KRW LAW LLP to write to government ministers on her behalf.

She believes that the license between the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Bar Council for the Law Library’s use of the building constitutes illegal state aid and should be rescinded immediately.

The license allows the OPW to collect a license fee of one penny per year, but there is no note in the annual reports of the Bar Council of any demand or payment of the license fee, she said.

In a letter sent to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe on Ms Houston’s behalf, solicitor Kevin Winters wrote: “My client obtained a copy of this license from the OPW which was under the impression that the Bar Council was ‘providing a public service’. It is not.

“The Bar Council is a private club, charges ‘hello money’ of €1,500 to new entrants to the market for barrister services and significant annual fees running to thousands of euros per year for Law Library membership.”

He added: “We are instructed to write to you in open correspondence to request that you immediately rescind this unlawful license and either to require the Bar Council to pay the market rate for this valuable public property in the centre of Dublin City or immediately to vacate it. It owns a property across the street and can use that.

“You are also asked to request payment from the Bar Council to cover the period that the Bar Council has had this property free of charge. Our client suggests that a request from you to the Bar Council for a payment of €2 million or more as a payment to reflect the no-charge period would not be unreasonable.”

The letter also sets out Ms Houston’s position that “the Law Library premises, once vacated by the Bar Council, would make a very suitable location for family law proceedings”, as a cheaper alternative to the long-standing proposals to build a dedicated family law courts complex at Hammond Lane.

“Our client is pleased that it is fortunate indeed that bringing an end to this element of dominion on the part of the Bar Council, a private club, will open up the opportunity quickly and urgently to allocate the premises at the Law Library for the conduct of important family law proceedings,” Mr Winters wrote.

“This urgent action will save the State the enormous cost of constructing a new building. At long last, the State will provide Courts accommodation that will respect the privacy and anonymity of families, so urgently required in light of the sensitivity of family law proceedings.”

The letter also calls on the Department of Finance to “check the position with respect to the rooms provided to the King’s Inns and the Incorporate Council of Law Reporting” in case they also occupy premises without being charged commercial rents.

The Bar declined to comment when approached by Irish Legal News.

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