Belfast QC Patrick Lyttle paid more than £1m from public purse... for the second year in a row
A barrister who has worked on some of Northern Ireland's biggest criminal cases in recent years earned almost £1.5m from the public purse last year.
For two years running Patrick Lyttle QC topped the legal aid rich list, having received more than £1m in both years.
Payments last year to the lawyer, whose workload in recent years has included the UVF supergrass case and the Robert McCartney murder trial, were made on the back of 129 legal aid certificates.
Mr Lyttle earned more than twice the £587,626 paid out to the second highest paid recipient of legal aid, Sean Devine QC.
The Belfast-based law firm of Kevin Winters once again topped the list of 100 solicitors practices, receiving more than £2m after tax. Madden & Finucane earned £1.2m and McConnell, Kelly & Co received £1.1m.
More than £100m was spent on legal aid payments to law firms and individual barristers last year, according to new statistics released yesterday.
The figures show that almost 100 individual barristers earned over £100,000 from legal aid.
A London-based lawyer who was once involved in the Omagh bomb trial and who defended Michael McKevitt in the Omagh civil action, received the highest average payments of all barristers in the province last year.
Kieran Vaughan was paid £186,452 after tax for two legal aid certificates.
There has been great public concern over legal aid expenses and justice minister David Ford has brought in stringent measures to cut payments. However, Bar Council chairman Gerry McAlinden QC warned that "families will suffer from ongoing cuts to the legal aid system".
"Legal Aid is a vital service delivering justice to the most disadvantaged in our society. Therefore, it is the number of people being supported, the ever increasing number of personal litigants, the lengthening waiting lists and the number of those being removed from eligibility by a series of highly damaging cuts that should be a priority for scrutiny," he said.
Mr McAlinden accused the Department of Justice of "moving to slice millions off the Legal Aid budget and in doing so will remove the right to free legal representation to vulnerable women, children, families and communities without the kind of informed consultation that would expose the damage that is being done to human rights and access to justice".
Kevin Winters, of KRW Law, defended the system, saying it is a public service and "a cornerstone to a modern democracy founded on the principles of justice and the rule of law and protection of the rights of the individual".
Patrick Lyttle QC has worked on a number of high profile criminal cases. He defended Robert Stewart, the UVF 'supergrass' who, along with his brother, helped identify up to a dozen loyalists in return for a plea bargain. Mr Lyttle was also involved in the Robert McCartney murder case in 2008, defending a man accused of assault and affray related to the attack.
Top 10 legal aid barristers
1: Mr P Lyttle £1,441,044
2: Mr Sean Devine £587,626
3: Miss Margaret Walsh £443,360
4: Ms Siobhan Keegan £427,632
5: Mr D P Fee £421,933
6: Mr Brian Fee £386,184
7: Ms Mary Higgins £376,722
8: Ms Noelle McGrenera £324,528
9: Mr W G Berry £281,409
10: Mr Odhran Stockman £270,916
Top 10 legal firms
1: Kevin Winters £2,015,099
2: Madden & Finucane £1,245,590
3: McConnell, Kelly & Co £1,155,173
4: Donnelly & Wall £999,092
5: Trevor Smyth & Co £993,245
6: McKenna Sweeney McKeown £848,568
7: Quigley, Grant & Kyle £880,181
8: GR Ingram & Co £857,349
9: Joe Mulholland & Co £738,931
10: McCann & McCann £735,069