Judges to benefit from pay restoration while barristers left in the lurch
Judges are set to benefit from pay increases of up to 15 per cent from next month, sparking consternation from barristers whose pay remains up to 69 per cent below pre-2008 levels.
Public servants on salaries above €150,000 must have their pay restored to pre-2008 levels by 1 July 2022 under the provisions of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Act 2017.
According to The Irish Times, ministers had sought to postpone the pay restoration amid the sharp increase in inflation, but were told this would open the government to the risk of legal action.
However, The Bar of Ireland has said the decision to push ahead with pay restoration for senior public servants while barristers continue to be paid 2002 rates meant that barristers were being “penalised and singled out as the only profession in the justice sector where their pay has not been restored”.
The professional fees of barristers who are paid by the State to conduct criminal cases were cut by between 28.5 per cent and 26 per cent from 2008 to 2011, and those cuts continue to apply.
The Department of Justice and the Office of Director of Public Prosecution have indicated their support for fee restoration for barristers, but it is a matter for the minister of public expenditure and reform.
Maura McNally SC, chair of the Bar Council, said: “The approach taken by the State is at odds with others in the justice sector. For example, State Solicitors who are employed on a similar basis and work on the same cases, have had a process of pay restoration in place since 2017. However criminal barristers are still subject to the austerity cuts.
“There is an issue of fairness here. Barristers are delivering on behalf of the State, a service that is integral to the administration of criminal justice and the rule of law. Why are barristers being singled out?
“We are asking the government, in the context of today’s announcement and in the context of the wider pay restoration and pay negotiations, to arrange for the immediate restoration of the link between fees paid to barristers and those applied under public sector pay agreements.”
Vincent Heneghan SC, chair of the criminal bar committee, added: “The justice system, and in particular the criminal justice system, is becoming untenable where those operating in it are paid increasingly unrealistic rates.
“The exodus of criminal barristers will continue – the evidence shows that two thirds of barristers who commence a career in criminal law leave after only six years in practice and that this is as a direct consequence of the deep cuts that were applied during the FEMPI years.
“The Bar of Ireland is simply asking that the profession is treated fairly and reasonably, consistent with the approach taken in relation to other groups of workers where the State is the paymaster.”