Barristers stage protests over ‘pitiful’ legal aid rates
Barristers staged protests outside of courthouses yesterday to condemn the “pitiful rates” paid to defence lawyers practising in the District Court under the criminal legal aid scheme.
Dozens of junior lawyers, joined by a handful of senior colleagues in a show of solidarity, gathered outside the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, while smaller gatherings took place in other parts of the State.
A number of solicitors also showed their support for the protests. Dublin and Dundalk firm Mulholland Law withdrew its services for the day, as did individuals such as Pádraig Langsch, partner at Langsch & Cunnane Solicitors LLP.
In the District Court, the legal aid scheme provides for a €25.20 payment for a remand hearing, €50.40 for a plea in mitigation at a sentence hearing and €67.50 for a full trial hearing.
Darren Lalor BL, one of the protest organisers who was featured in Irish Legal News yesterday as our Lawyer of the Month, said: “I believe that it is good for the administration of justice to have people from different backgrounds working as barristers in the criminal justice system.
“It is bad for the administration of justice to create an environment where only people with independent resources can survive in the profession.”
William Morrin BL, a barrister who recently left the Law Library and now refuses to accept briefs under the criminal legal aid scheme, said: “I value the time and effort I have made to become a practicing barrister, but it appears no one else does.
“The sad realisation that I was only filling in the gaps of a dysfunctional system is a bitter pill to swallow. Like many, I was propping up the criminal legal aid scheme until more newly qualified barristers came in and took my place and the places of many who have struggled before.”
Sinead Morrissey, a barrister-at-law candidate in the King’s Inns, and Aine Holt BL, who is nearing the end of her pupillage, also joined the demonstration.
“To think my passion for practicing in criminal law has been pulled from under me by a broken system is soul-destroying,” Ms Morrissey said. “My only hope of survival is in another area of law.”
Ms Holt said: “The criminal justice system is skewed in favour of those with independent finances. It is unjust that a system of justice perpetuates injustice.”
Senior barristers supporting yesterday’s demonstrations included Luigi Rea BL, a criminal defence practitioner in the Circuit Court, and Feargal Kavanagh SC and Michael O’Higgins SC, who practise in the higher courts.
Mr Kavanagh said: “A full review of the scheme is long overdue. Talented young barristers are being forced to leave the practice of criminal law as it is no longer a financially viable career path.
“In my view it is well past the time for barristers practicing criminal law to individually demonstrate that the scheme cannot operate without them and that without it the operation of the criminal courts is impossible.”
Mr O’Higgins said: “Lawyers working in the District Court are providing a very important public service. This includes holding the authorities to account and upholding human and civil rights.
“This is part of the work at all levels in the criminal justice system. It is essential that this work be funded properly at all levels.”