The identities of top lawyers who have made millions from the public purse have been revealed.
New figures disclose how 21 Queen’s Counsel earned more than £1m in legal aid payments during the past five years.
One QC, Greg Berry, received nearly £4m during that period.
The expenditure was disclosed in response to an Assembly question by DUP MLA Jim Wells, who branded it “astonishing and eye-watering”.
“These figures show that the whole legal aid budget was totally recession-proof,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
According to the list of payments, £55m was awarded to 70 QCs between 2006/07 and 2010/11.
In 21 cases, QCs earned more than £1m in that five-year period.
The highest payments were made to Mr Berry, who received £3,807,244. That included £1.2m in a single year.
Londonderry-born Eilis McDermott, who worked on the Bloody Sunday probe, got £3,724,003 in legal aid in the period.
The third highest was Arthur Harvey, who earned £3,375,838. Justice committee member Mr Wells said he was shocked by the vast payments.
He said: “The payments are astonishing and eye-watering amounts of money.”
While the Justice Minister has pledged to slash legal aid payments to barristers by 20%, Mr Wells believes he can go further.
“Can someone provide first class representation for their clients on £500,000 a year? I believe they can,” adding: “This is only what they have earned from the taxpayer through legal aid. Many will be doing private work on top of that, plus there are their expenses.”
Mr Ford said the figures represented gross payments including VAT and that in some cases money paid in error had been returned.
A spokesman for the Bar Council, which represents barristers, said the payments were the result of a number of years’ work by individual barristers.
She said: “Such is the nature of the work and the system within which legal services operate that barristers can wait for years before being paid through the legal aid system.
“As experts in their field these professionals will be significant fee earners who pay a proportion of fees to cover professional overheads and other expenses |typical of any self-employed person and, as with any business income, can fluctuate widely year on year.”
Legal aid: £3,807,244: Greg Berry received the highest legal aid payments during the five-year period. His work included representing a woman convicted of killing Londonderry man Jim McFadden. He also worked as a defence counsel in last year’s supergrass trial, but that case is not included in the figures.
Legal aid: £3,724,003: Eilis McDermott was born in Derry in 1950, becoming a student at Queen's in 1968, from where she graduated in 1972. She worked on the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday and represents Gerry Adams's brother Liam, who faces prosecution for alleged sex offences.
Legal aid: £3,375,838: Arthur Harvey also worked on the Saville Inquiry. His other high-profile cases included representing Michael Stone on charges of attempting to murder Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness in 2006. He also represented a killer of Thomas Devlin.
Northern Ireland’s millionaire QCs:
WG Berry: £3,807,244
AM Cinnamond: £1,156,972
DP Fee: £1,311,333
JA Gallagher: £3,175,245
JE Grant: £2,510,616
AD Harvey: £3,375,838
DJ Hopley: £1,714,311
BG McCartney: £3,026,071
FG McCrory: £1,174,195
LP McCrudden: £2,013,363
JF McCrudden: £1,704,797
EM McDermott: £3,724,003
PT McDonald: £1,641,032
B Macdonald: £2,402,943
P Magee: £2,772,643
FP O’Donoghue: £1,497,010
J Orr (Mr): £1,919,960
J Orr (Miss): £1,001,906
O Powell: £1,160,839
PE Ramsey: £1,638,948
J Treacy: £1,961,089