Defence lawyers protest at courthouses throughout Ireland

Padraig Conlon 02 May 2023

Junior and senior lawyers gathered outside courthouses around the country today to protest about the pitiful rates of pay paid to defence lawyers practicing in the District Court under the criminal legal aid scheme.

Barristers practicing in the District Court are paid €25.20 for a remand hearing, €50.40 for a plea in mitigation at a sentence hearing and €67.50 for a full trial hearing.

One of the organizers of the protest, Darren Lalor BL 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.

“It is time to shout STOP! We must never sit back and become the face of failure – Stand up and be the face for change.”

Mr. William Morrin BL very recently left the Law Library and now refuses to accept briefs under the criminal legal aid scheme.

“I value the time and effort I have made to become a practicing barrister, but it appears no one else does,” he said.

“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.”

Ms. Sinead Morrissey is a Barrister at Law candidate in the King’s Inns.

“I have worked so hard to get where I am, and I look forward to getting the Barrister at Law qualification,” she said.

“But to think my passion for practicing in criminal law has been pulled from under me by a broken system is soul destroying.

“My only hope of survival is in another area of law. I have a lot to contribute.”

Ms. Aine Holt BL was called to the Bar in 2022 and is nearing the end of her pupillage.

“It is unjust that cuts made to Criminal Legal Aid pay rates as a result of the financial crisis long ago remain in force and were not unwound in line with common practice,” she said.

“These cuts affect newly qualified barristers who cannot afford to stay in a system that fails to remunerate.

“The criminal justice system is skewed in favour of those with independent finances. It is unjust that a system of justice perpetuates injustice.”

The protest titled “A Celebration of Failure” was supported by a number of senior barristers who do not practice in the District Court. Mr. Luigi Rea BL is a criminal defence practitioner.

“Prosecution and legal aid defence fees are anchored to 2002 rates,” said Luigi Rea BL.

“Cuts made long ago have not been unwound despite economic recovery for some, alongside roaring and corrosive inflation for all.

“How can it be that a DOPEAR1 unit overruled two previous Ministers for Justice as to what fees should be paid to lawyers in serious criminal trials affecting victims and those wrongly accused.”

Mr. Feargal Kavanagh SC practices in the higher courts.

“There is a strong public interest to be served in a properly funded criminal defence system,” he said.

“The criminal legal aid system is not just about representing those who cannot afford to pay – it is about ensuring a fair, reliable, and effective system as required by law for identifying wrongdoers and upholding the rights of victims.

“The State is obliged to provide ‘effective’ legal aid to all those who qualify.

“The present rate of fees under the scheme were set in 2002 or thereabouts.

“To expect that the absence of any increase in rates since would not result in the undermining of the operation of the criminal law system is at best ignorant.

“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. Michael O’Higgins SC also practices in the higher courts:

“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.”

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