€18m slashed from disputed legal bills in past three years
The body which decided on disputes over High Court legal bills cut more than a third of the fees sought by lawyers in the past three years.
Figures obtained by the Herald reveal the Office of the Taxing Master slashed more than €18.1m from bills in cases where there was a disagreement over the amount to be paid.
On average there was a deduction of €6,185 per case.
According to the Law Society, which represents solicitors, the vast majority of matters before the Taxing Master related to "party and party costs". These are the reasonably incurred costs which one party, usually the winning side in a case, can recover from the other.
As well as solicitors' fees, a bill of costs can include fees for barristers, doctors, engineers and other expert witnesses.
The release of the figures comes after long-awaited legal costs reforms kicked in last week. These include more consumer-friendly legal costs, transparency requirements for legal practitioners, while new complaints against lawyers, including those related to excessive charging, are now being handled by the independent Legal Service Regulatory Authority (LSRA).
The Office of the Taxing Master is also being replaced by a new Office of Legal Costs Adjudicators, which will have a public register of its decisions.
Taxing masters dealt with 1,092 cases last year. The overall amount claimed was €27.1m, but €9.5m was deducted.
Some 1,032 cases were decided in 2017, when bills amounting to €9.9m were reduced by more than €3.7m. In 2016, there were 815 cases, where fees totalling €12.3m had been claimed. Some €4.9m was deducted.
In a statement, the Law Society said: "The taxing masters ensure that costs are reasonable and a reduction in legal costs in litigation has been widespread over the period in question."
Under the new regime, the practitioner who issues the bill of costs can be penalised if the amount sought turns out to be 15pc more than the figure ultimately determined by a legal costs adjudicator.
The rate of deduction revealed by the latest figures was slightly less than in the preceding three-year period from 2013 to 2015 when cuts averaging 39.6pc were made.