Lawyers carve up £11m from Bloody Sunday

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The Independent Online

Startling new figures reveal the detailed, individual earnings of the 21 barristers and seven firms of solicitors who have received more than £11m in public money for representing families at the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre.

Startling new figures reveal the detailed, individual earnings of the 21 barristers and seven firms of solicitors who have received more than £11m in public money for representing families at the Saville inquiry into the Bloody Sunday massacre.

The figures include a father and son team of barristers who have received more than £500,000 between them working on the case. One Belfast solicitor's firm has received more than £4.5m in public funds, according to new figures.

The disclosure is a further embarrassment to an increasingly unwieldy inquiry into the deaths of 14 civilians shot by British soldiers during a civil rights rally in Londonderry on 30 January 1972.

For the legal costs of the public inquiry, announced by Tony Blair in 1998, are escalating out of control. The total cost of the inquiry to date is £52m and is expected to exceed £100m by its finish.

New figures published by Parliament last week reveal for the first time the individual sums paid to lawyers acting for families of victims in the public inquiry. The money paid includes VAT and, in most cases, expenses.

The costs are likely to rise further following legal rulings due this month, while five lawyers have still to submit fee claims. Currently QCs are paid £1,500 a day. Junior counsel get half that sum but they want £1,000. London barristers receive an additional £100 an hour for travelling to the case in Derry. Solicitors are paid £146 an hour but they have asked for £190. A switch to England later this year to hear evidence from soldiers will also significantly increase costs of lawyers from Northern Ireland.

One of the most senior barristers working on the inquiry, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, who has received £190,647 for a year's work, said last night there needed to be a Royal Commission into the organisation of public inquiries and the spiralling costs.

The top-earning barrister was Arthur Harvey QC, who has received a total of £398,855 of public money for work on the case from July 1998 to November 2001. He has acted as the lead counsel for the families of victims. He represents more families than any other barrister at the inquiry.

Mr Harvey's son Ciaran, who is working on the case as his father's junior counsel, has received £165,969 for one year's work. Ciaran Harvey qualified from bar school in Northern Ireland in 1999. The pair were instructed by a Belfast law firm Madden and Finucane, which has so far received £4.5m for its work from January 1998 to November last year. Madden and Finucane are representing the families of nine of those who died and 10 people who were wounded. Three Derry law firms have received a total of £1.3m for representing three families.

Lawyers working on the inquiry, which began hearing oral evidence in March 2000, were surprised at Ciaran Harvey's employment in the case given how recently he had qualified. One said: "It is unusual for somebody of such inexperience to be taken on board such a high-profile inquiry." Another solicitor, who also did not wish to be named, described it as "unheard of".

Mr Harvey, one of the province's leading criminal barristers, defended his son, saying he was not aware there had been questions over his role in the inquiry. "I am very happy with the work he has done. Madden and Finucane instructed him and they are happy with the work he has done ... He has done an enormous amount of work in this case. There is a lot of hard background work for the juniors."

Peter Madden, the senior partner at Madden and Finucane, said it was unfair only to look at fees earned by lawyers representing families. He called for earnings of the soldiers' lawyers to be released immediately and demanded a breakdown of the £10.8m earned by Eversheds, the London-based law firm that interviewed eyewitnesses and soldiers on behalf of inquiry chairman Lord Saville.

"My position all along has been if there is going to be a discussion about the costs of the inquiry, the costs should be laid out on a table [for all lawyers]," he said. "Then we can make comparisons."

Gregory Campbell, the MP for Londonderry, who tabled the question on legal costs, said: "The Government needs to put a cap on the expenditure of the Saville inquiry which is only going to escalate. I think it's an absolute scandal. Legal representatives are going to become millionaires as a result of this inquiry."

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, who in the past has chaired 12 public inquiries himself, and is acting for the organisers of the march at the Saville inquiry, said his fees included expenses and were therefore higher than he had claimed when the issue of fees first arose in January. He said the same applied to his colleague Michael Mansfield QC, who at the time reckoned that he earned about £200,000, but in fact has received £296,857.

Sir Louis said: "When we are finished with the Bloody Sunday inquiry which must be at least two years away, Saville should make the recommendation himself to the Government for a Royal Commission into public inquiries."