Bar urges decision on fee restoration ahead of reshuffle

Bar urges decision on fee restoration ahead of reshuffle

Sara Phelan SC

Bar Council chair Sara Phelan SC has urged public expenditure and reform minister Michael McGrath to make a decision on fee restoration for barristers ahead of the coming government reshuffle.

The Bar has called repeatedly for the reversal of cuts to professional fees paid to barristers practising criminal law on behalf of the State, which were slashed by amounts ranging from 28.5 to 69 per cent from 2008 to 2011.

Although other groups of workers across the justice sector have since had cuts reversed, criminal barristers are 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.

In August, a delegation from the Bar Council — consisting of then-chair Maura McNally SC, Ms Phelan, Séamus Clarke SC and Bar chief executive Ciara Murphy — met with Mr McGrath and officials in a bid to persuade him to reverse the fee cuts.

Irish Legal News understands that Mr McGrath gave a commitment at that meeting to making a decision on the issue within a matter of weeks, but no further contact has been forthcoming.

In a letter sent to the minister just over two weeks ago, Ms Phelan said: “Without a meaningful and definitive response from the Department… it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the government’s commitment to the improvement of the criminal justice system is not sincere, but extends only so far as others, in particular members of the Bar, are willing to meet the cost of such improvement.”

She added: “Mindful of the ministerial changes that are due to occur in the coming weeks, we are very concerned that this matter has not yet reached a conclusion.”

There has not been any response from Mr McGrath or his Department to this letter.

Darren Lalor BL, who this year helped to organise a number of barristers’ protests outside the Criminal Courts of Justice, told Irish Legal News: “We have already conveyed to the minister the state of our criminal justice system funded at 2002 rates. Twenty years later, it is obvious we are considered just an option, and not a priority like others.

“It is outrageous that the minister refuses to engage with our professional body. This will not continue.”

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