New body to de­cide on cor­rect level of le­gal bills

Irish Independent - - News - Shane Phe­lan

TRANS­PARENCY and down­ward pres­sure on costs – th­ese are the ul­ti­mate goals of a sys­tem be­ing in­tro­duced to de­cide the ap­pro­pri­ate level of le­gal costs aris­ing from High Court cases where the size of a bill is in dis­pute.

Un­der changes to be in­tro­duced by the Le­gal Ser­vices Reg­u­la­tory Author­ity (LSRA), the cur­rent Tax­ing Masters Of­fice is to be re­placed by an Of­fice of Le­gal Costs Ad­ju­di­ca­tors.

Although the cur­rent of­fice has con­sis­tently slashed bills and hear­ings are open to the pub­lic, very few of its de­ter­mi­na­tions are pub­lished.

Ear­lier this year, the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent sought ac­cess to a more ex­ten­sive num­ber of de­ter­mi­na­tions in a bid to see if there were any par­tic­u­lar trends, only to be told this was not pos­si­ble. How­ever, sta­tis­tics on the num­ber of cases dealt with and the amount of costs dis­al­lowed were made avail­able.

The draw­backs of the of­fice were noted as far back as 2005 when a re­port by a le­gal costs work­ing group set up by then-jus­tice min­is­ter Michael McDow­ell ad­vo­cated its re­place­ment.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern was the lack of a pub­lic reg­is­ter of de­ci­sions and the key fac­tors that led to those de­ci­sions.

This cre­ated a sig­nif­i­cant in­for­ma­tion deficit, lim­it­ing the aware­ness of the pub­lic and the le­gal pro­fes­sions of the likely lev­els at which costs will be de­cided in dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories of pro­ceed­ings.

While there is al­ways some un­pre­dictabil­ity sur­round­ing le­gal costs in a case, the ab­sence of such data only com­pounded the dif­fi­culty in mak­ing pre­dic­tions.

Lack of trans­parency was also crit­i­cised in a 2011 re­port by the Dáil Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee.

Un­der the Le­gal Ser­vice Reg­u­la­tion Act, a chief le­gal costs ad­ju­di­ca­tor will have to en­sure a reg­is­ter of de­ci­sions is avail­able for pub­lic in­spec­tion and pub­lished on the web­site of the Courts Ser­vice. It will have to con­tain in­for­ma­tion in­clud­ing the iden­ti­ties of par­ties in­volved in the ad­ju­di­ca­tion, the set of pro­ceed­ings it re­lates to, the de­ci­sion of the le­gal costs ad­ju­di­ca­tor, and, sub­ject to a small num­ber of ex­cep­tions, the rea­sons for the de­ci­sion.

The chief le­gal costs ad­ju­di­ca­tor will also have the power to is­sue guide­lines to le­gal prac­ti­tion­ers and the pub­lic.

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