It’s been claimed that over the past 12 months Kildare-based solicitors are being squeezed out by Dublin based legal firms.
According to one local solicitor, Tony Hanahoe, up to 50% of the people due to appear before Naas District Court last Wednesday, July 23, were represented by Dublin-based legal firms.
The Leinster Leader believes that the issue has been brewing for some time, but matters when came to a head last Wednesday when two sisters, who had instructed Mr. Hanahoe and another local solicitor, Timmy Kennelly, to represent them, apparently suddenly changed their minds.
When the case was called, Mr. Kennelly told the court that both he and Mr. Hanahoe had believed that they were representing the two women and that they had taken instructions from them, via an interpretor (the sisters are Romanian), as recently as 11am that same day.
“We’re suddenly being told, after taking instructions from them several times, that they no longer want us to represent them, all in the space of an hour for lunch.”
What complicates the matter is that neither of the new solicitors, Treacy Horan or John Woods, who are partners in the same legal firm, was present in court.
Instead, Sarah Connolly, a young barrister, had been instructed to represent the two sisters.
There was a suspicion that several legal rules were being broken - rules that members of the public likely never heard of.
It is against the rules for solicitors and barristers, or anyone on their behalf, to approach a defendant and offer to represent them.
This is known as touting. The defendant must do the approaching.
In the case of barristers, it is even more constrictive.
They must receive all their instructions from a solicitor who is the point of contact with the client.
They must not represent a defendant without the presence of their solicitor although some judges are stricter about enforcing that rule than others.
It is quite a common practice for young barristers to gain experience representing defendants in the district court.
Known within the profession as ‘baby barristers’, they are often sent to what a busy big solicitor’s firm considers to be a minor court to do small, not so lucrative cases.
But with the barrister’s fee as little as €50 per case, farming out a case, especially if the defendant is granted legal aid, can be a handy little earner for the legal firm.
Naas’s relative proximity to Dublin has made it susceptible to this phenomenon.
Tony Hanahoe said that he would be writing to the Bar Council about this. “This has got to stop.
“This is a country court. We’re at a point where 50% of the people being represented here have hired Dublin solicitors.
“Something has happened in the past 12 months and I don’t like it.
“They send a young barrister down here, pay them a pittance, so little that they could lose money coming here. It is in effect slavery,” he said.
“Judge may I......” Sarah Connolly rose to her feet to respond.
“No, sit down, sit down,” the Judge told her.
It should be pointed out that at no point was Ms. Connolly accused of breaking any rules, and the two solicitors and the Judge were careful, while making their comments, to avoid any such inference.
“First of all this is an abuse of my time here,” Judge Zaidan said.
He criticised Mr. Wood and Ms. Horan for “not having the courtesy to be here”.
He described the situation as “embarrassing for the legal profession”, “bringing it into disrepute” and urged them to be more professional.
He accepted that the two defendants are perfectly entitled to have whoever they want to represent them.
He urged Mr. Hanahoe and Mr. Kennelly to bring the matter to the Law Society and the Bar Council (the representative organisations for solicitors and barristers.)
He refused to allow the change of solicitors and demanded that Mr. Woods and Ms. Horan appear before him the following day.
On Thursday, Mr. Woods turned up and explained that his partner Ms. Horan was unable to make it.
Both Mr. Hanahoe and Mr. Kennelly told the court that they accepted his explanation that there was a mix up in his office which resulted in them not being informed of the change much earlier.
Mr. Hanahoe said that his concerns remained in general about barristers taking instructions from clients without the presence of a solicitor.
The two sisters were Larrissa and Maria Magurean, 20 and 23 years of age respectively, both with an address listed as 27 The Grove, Kingswood Heights, Tallaght.
They were charged with stealing six bottles of alcohol on July 12, 2013 at Tesco, Monread Road, Naas, to the value €251.57.
Their case was adjourned to a date in September.
- Conor McHugh