Cunningham appeals fraud conviction

The recent report of the 'beef' tribunal of inquiry in the Irish Republic has left angry taxpayers with an Iru30 million bill in legal fees.

One senior counsel earned over Irul million, the equivalent of the total estimated cost of Britain's Scott Inquiry into the Arms-for-Iraq affair.

Faced with widespread criticism over what is seen by the public as a bonanza for the legal profession, the Irish government has promised to review the format for such inquiries.

It favours the Scott model, because it is seen as faster and relatively inexpensive. The Scott model only awards fees for representatives if it is necessary to further the interests of justice.

But the Irish Bar Council has warned of problems with that type of inquiry as all citizens have a constitutional right to legal representation.

The tribunal was established by the Irish government to investigate allegations of fraud and malpractice in the country's beef industry. It took public evidence from scores of witnesses.

The report awarded costs to 73 separate legal teams. The bill, to be met by the state, will total more than Iru30 million.

Irish finance minister, Bertie Ahern, has expressed concern about the impact of the award on state finances and said he will be pressing to have the sum reduced.

The fees earned by individual barristers have provoked most criticism. Senior counsel Eoin McGonigal, who headed the inquiry's legal team, has been dubbed the tribunal millionaire, as his fees totalled well over Irul million.

Another senior counsel, Conor Maguire, acting for the state, earned over Iru800,000. Like his colleagues, he was paid Iru1,890 per day when the tribunal was sitting and – what has angered the public most of all – Iru1,050 for non-sitting days. The rate for junior counsel was Iru1,260 per day.

The level of fees was fixed by a former Irish Attorney General, John Murray, now a judge in the European Court.

In defence, the Bar Council argues that those involved in the inquiry were the country's leading lawyers, who were paid the going rate.

Lincoln's Inn barrister Bernard Cunningham is appealing against his conviction and prison sentence received for his part in a u1.3 million tax fraud.

Cunningham, of Michael Jump's chambers at 24 Old Buildings, was sentenced to 15 month's imprisonment at Nottingham Crown Court. He was sentenced together with three accountants after a six-month trial costing an estimated u2 million and claimed to be the Inland Revenue's longest-ever tax fraud trial.

The accountants received sentences ranging from six months to five years.

Cunningham's solicitor, Michael Fisher, senior partner of Christian Fisher & Co, has lodged appeals following conviction in August and after the sentence was given.

“He is vigorously maintaining his innocence and believes he did not have a fair trial,” says Fisher.

“We are saying the jury's verdict is unsafe and unsatisfactory. It was based on an inference that he must have known his clients were committing crimes,” says Fisher.

“There was no direct evidence that he knew his clients were committing crimes. The true picture will emerge in the Court of Appeal,” he says

All the accountants are considering appeals.