EU dispatch: Irish barristers strike over legal aid fees Dispatches
© JURIST / Ciara Dinneny
EU dispatch: Irish barristers strike over legal aid fees

Law students from the European Union are reporting for JURIST on law-related events in and affecting the European Union and its member states. Ciara Dinneny is JURIST’s European Bureau Chief and a trainee with the Law Society of Ireland. She files this dispatch from Dublin.  

Irish criminal barristers have withdrawn their services as of Tuesday, 3rd October, due to a dispute over the rate of legal aid fees. The Bar Council of Ireland announced in July that they would be holding a one-day strike.

The dispute relates to the fees paid to criminal barristers by the Director of Public Prosecutions under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) scheme. The rate of fees were cut in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 and have not been restored since. It is understood that the fees payable to criminal barristers remain at 2002 levels.

The Bar Council of Ireland have made several efforts with the Government to reform the legal scheme, but no resolution has been reached. They decided to implement an initial one-day withdrawal of services in pursuit of a meaningful, independent and time-limited mechanism to determine fees payable to barristers by the DPP and under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Scheme.

Sean Guerin SC, Chair of the Criminal State Bar Committee, says that “[t]he failure by consecutive Governments to recognise this by means of fee restoration, and the targeting of the Bar as the only participant in the criminal justice system not to secure pay restoration, is a fundamental threat to the integrity of the criminal justice system.”

The unprecedented withdrawal of services is expected to affect a significant number of criminal cases listed before the courts, including trials, sentences, and arraignment hearings. In the criminal list for the Circuit Court alone there are 147 trial or trial matters hearings listed, 182 sentencing hearings and 46 arraignments as well as mention matters. The withdrawal of services will be in all courts hearing criminal matters across the country. This includes thirteen courthouses: the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin, Dundalk, Castlebar, Cork, Sligo, Trim, Monaghan, Naas, Nenagh, Longford, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick.

The Irish budget for 2024 is set to be announced on the 10th of October, one week after the strike. Justice Minister Helen McEntee has spoken in support of the reversal of the cuts, however there is no indication from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that any changes have been made.