Joe Higgins Column
I have spoken may times in the Dail about the massive rip-off involved in the fees that leading barristers charge for their services. Nevertheless, it was still a shock to see just how blatant they are when Councillor Clare Daly and I received our costs' bill from Fingal County Council a week ago. Regular readers of Socialist Voice will remember well how on 19 September last, a High Court judge not only sent us to jail but awarded the Council costs against us.
Clare and I spent less than six hours in the High Court on 17 and 19 September. While the total bill of 33,000 euro was shocking enough, it is in the breakdown of the legal expenses paid out by Fingal County Council that is really revealing.
The senior barrister employed by the Council was on his feet in the High Court on Wednesday 17 September for less than three hours. He was looking for an interlocutory injunction against peaceful anti- bin tax protestors- a run of the mill assignment. His fee? 7,500 euro plus 21% V.A.T! His junior colleague, who largely studied the senior's back for a few hours, was paid 5,000 euro plus V.A.T.
On Friday, the same senior barrister was on his feet again, for less than three hours, sending Clare and I to Mountjoy for a month. His fee? another 7,500 euro plus V.A.T. His junior's fee? yet another 5,000 euro plus V.A.T.
Junior was also paid for supervising the affidavits of members of the Council staff. These are very straightforward documents which mainly gave versions of the peaceful protest engaged in by householders.
Nevertheless, Junior charged 500 euro for the first affidavit, which was less than five pages. The next two, less than two pages each, cost 300 euro each. These were done in a few hours the same day. And so it went - a total of over 3,000 euro for about a dozen affidavits. Incidentally Clare and I drafted our own affidavits at no cost to anybody.
Other costs paid by the Council were also quite revealing. Fingal County Council served notices of their injunction on 73 people, most of them householders in north and west Dublin. The company which the Council employed to serve the papers charged 130 euro a time.
It's no wonder that ordinary people on ordinary wages are often terrified of using the courts because of the potential costs. However, big corporations have no such problems. Neither, apparently, do county councils or other state bodies who have no hesitation in using taxpayers' funds against these very same taxpayers.
When the ordinary taxpayer sees these kinds of outrageous fees, they can understand also why the Tribunals, which are currently sitting in Dublin Castle and elsewhere, are costing such an absolute fortune. Figures that I received recently on the Public Accounts Committee indicate that the five best known Tribunals of Investigation have seen legal costs reach 42 million euro.
The Tribunal into Planning Corruption, which is running since the end of 1997, has seen its two leading lawyers get over 5 euro million between them in fees. Quite clearly, this is an enormous scandal in itself. While we want to see the absolute truth come out about those who were guilty of planning corruption, if the Government was serious, immediate action would be taken to change this situation.