Statement from The Council of The Bar of Ireland
Chair of the Council of The Bar of Ireland, Sara Phelan SC, has welcomed reported indications from Government this week that it will now look at the issue of restoration of fees for criminal barristers. However, she said that in doing do it must acknowledge the significant reforms and changed work practices already delivered by members of The Bar of Ireland since 2002, which have been recognised and accepted by the DPP and the Department of Justice, but which have not been acted on by the Government.
In response to reports that Government will be ‘seeking concessions’ from barristers in exchange for negotiations on restoration of fees, which stand at 2002 levels, the Chair of the Council has written to members of the Cabinet requesting engagement with the profession on the issue. She said:
“We have today written to An Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to outline once again the additional reforms and changed practices that our members have delivered since 2002 as part of their public service to the criminal justice system.
These flexibilities and our members’ goodwill has ensured a functioning system to court users and the State Agencies, to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, and the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme. The impact of that being exhausted is now being felt across the criminal justice system.
We are ready to actively engage with the Government to consider any formalisation of those practices in the context of a reversal of the cuts, and an adequate and fair professional fees for our members’ continuing contribution to the criminal justice system.”
Chair of the Criminal State Bar Committee, Sean Guerin SC said:
“In circumstance where the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as far back as 2018, already acknowledged the flexibilities provided by our members to improve the administration of criminal justice, it is now vital now that Government understands the risk that is being created.
Our criminal justice system depends on the provision of high quality advocacy services to both prosecution and defence by the independent referral bar. The failure to ensure fair pay for that important work, 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 that system.
We are actively engaging with our members on this, as apart from an issue for victims of crime and the institution of the courts, it is an urgent welfare issue for our members.”
Within the correspondence, the Chair of The Council of The Bar of Ireland Sara Phelan SC noted:
The Bar of Ireland will, of course, always be a willing and engaged participant in any discussions on reform and improvement of the criminal justice system and the administration of justice and we are happy to engage in discussions on those issues.
But there should be no misunderstanding of the present position: The Bar has already provided flexibility and efficiencies comparable to those provided by other groups in return for reversal of cuts and has long ago satisfied the relevant front-line Departments of that.
Our ask of your Government has been to immediately restore the link with public sector pay agreements and engage in a process to unwind the cuts applied to the professional fees of criminal barristers. 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 and independent contractors where the State is the paymaster.”
Letter to An Taoiseach, and Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform
2018 Review by Office of Director of Public Prosecutions
Letter, March 2021, from the ODPP to the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform