Solicitors in Northern Ireland are celebrating an increase in taxation rates for legal aid cases, following a long and hard-fought battle to bring their rates of pay more into line with those in England.
The High Court last month increased the hourly rate for legal aid taxation to £61.50 – a rise of 35 per cent. But solicitors in Northern Ireland are still the worst paid in the UK.
The decision will be interpreted by Northern Ireland solicitors as a blow to the Taxing Master, Christopher Napier, who had consistently refused to alter the hourly rate, despite objections from lawyers.
The challenge to the Taxing Master's rates was mounted in 1994 by Belfast firm O' Reilly Stewart, over the fees for a medical negligence case. The hourly rate for costs at the time was £42.50, making solicitors in Northern Ireland the lowest paid in the UK.
It is understood that evidence of a survey on fees, carried out by the Law Society of Northern Ireland, and which was presented to the court, was persuasive. It revealed the average hourly fee for a solicitor in Northern Ireland was £60-70.
The new rate does not apply to fees for undefended matrimonial matters, which represent a substantial amount of legal aid work.