One barrister has received £3.5 million in legal aid payments over the last three years, it has been revealed.
Figures released by the Legal Services Agency show that for each of the last three years, Patrick Lyttle QC, has been paid more funds from legal aid than any other barrister in Northern Ireland.
The legal aid figures for 2014-2015 were published on Monday and show that Mr Lyttle received £1,173,498.96 in fees.
However, the firm which for six consecutive years has been top of the league table for solicitors’ legal aid – Kevin Winters’ KRW Law – has fallen one place. The top firm last year was Madden & Finucane, which took £1,620,175.78 in legal aid work.
Although there have been reforms to legal aid over recent years in an attempt to cut a bill which is far above that in the rest of the UK, payments under the scheme remain stubbornly high. In 2010-2011, legal aid payments to the top 10 barristers totalled £4.4 million (excluding VAT); by 2013-2014, that figure had fallen just marginally to £4.2 million.
The slight fall in barristers’ fees was more than matched by the increase in legal aid payments to the top 10 solicitors. In the same period, the top 10 solicitors’ payments from legal aid increased from £9.5 million to almost £10 million.
The Legal Services Agency – which released league tables of the top 100 payments to barristers and solicitors – said that the amounts paid to each barrister and solicitor practice could include payments for work undertaken across a number of years and that barristers may not have received all payments made in the financial year 2014-2015 during that year.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland said it welcomed the publication of the information. The body’s president, John Guerin, highlighted that access to justice is “a fundamental obligation for government in a civilised and democratic society” and said that the fees involved representing “those most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the public at a time when their lives require support, advice and representation”.