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Lawyers earn almost £100m in legal aid fees in just 12 months


Gail O'Rourke faces trial at the Circuit Criminal Court

Gail O'Rourke faces trial at the Circuit Criminal Court

Gail O'Rourke faces trial at the Circuit Criminal Court

Lawyers in Northern Ireland were paid almost £100m in legal aid during the last financial year.

Solicitors received £61.8m while barristers were paid £32.3m during 2012-13.

Six solicitor firms were paid in excess of £1m with Kevin Winters & Co being the top earner, receiving just over £2.4m

The next biggest earners for publicly-funded work were McConnell, Kelly & Co which was paid £1.6m, followed by Madden & Finucane which received over £1.4m.

Of the highest paid legal aid barristers, P Lyttle QC topped the list with counsel fees of more than £1m.

The figures do not include what lawyers were paid for private work.

Legal aid is the system where the government pays the cost of lawyers for those who cannot afford to pay. Northern Ireland has the most expensive legal aid system in the world, relative to the size of its population.

Solicitor payments 2012-13

Counsel payments 2012-13

The figures, for the 12 months up to last March, were released by the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission and are down on the previous year, when lawyers' legal aid fees were £101.7m.

Chair of the Legal Services Commission Ronnie Spence said: "The Commission remains committed to transparency in accounting for

significant sums of public money paid out of the legal aid fund.

"I acknowledge the continued co-operation of the Law Society and the Bar  Council in the publication of this information."

Justice Minister David Ford has already taken steps to reduce the spend on criminal legal aid and is now proposing similar measures for civil cases.

In 2011, some solicitors went on strike over the introduction of lower legal aid fees which they claimed would damage the quality of legal representation on offer to those who qualify for legal aid.

Belfast Telegraph