Barristers in Northern Ireland have earned more than £50m in legal aid over the past two years, new figures have revealed.
The names of individual barristers were published for the first time last night despite opposition from their union, the Bar Council, and show that more than £15.6m was paid to the 10 highest earners.
In the past financial year, the top 100 barristers were paid almost £30m while more than £21m in legal aid fees was paid out the previous year.
Topping the list of big legal aid earners was Greg Berry QC, who received more than £2.2m from the public purse during the period March 2008 to April 2010, with Brian McCartney QC, second highest, taking home £1.9m from the legal aid fund since 2008.
High-profile barrister Orlando Pownall QC, who represented Michael Stone and was senior defence counsel for Sean Hoey, who was acquitted of the Omagh bomb, did not make the the top 10, but still received hefty legal aid payments totalling £673,214. Northern Ireland’s legal aid system is among the most generous anywhere in the world and Justice Minister David Ford has raised concerns over the spiralling costs.
Legal Services Commission which released the figures said the amounts paid to each barrister may represent payments for work undertaken across a number of years and for a variety of cases.
The NILSC also stressed that some payments made to solicitors and barristers may be repaid to the legal aid fund if the party receiving them wins the case and recovers costs from its opponent.
“Some of the payments made during 2008-09 and 2009-10 include significant sums which the Commission was authorised to pay in respect of the highest cost criminal cases, many of which reflect work undertaken during previous years,” a statement said.