Burke -v- Lawless, [2016] IEHC 455 (2016)

Docket Number:2012 655 S
Party Name:Burke, Lawless

THE HIGH COURT[2012 No. 655S]






JUDGMENT of Mr Justice Max Barrett delivered on 29th July, 2016

  1. In 2010, Ms Lawless engaged a firm of solicitors to do certain work for her. Apart from an initial down-payment of €5,000, she has not paid a cent for the work that followed. That work was not un-extensive. It related to a dispute concerning an auction of certain lands. Ms Lawless maintained that despite being the highest bidder at an auction of the lands, the lands were not sold to her. Legal proceedings were initiated. Junior and Senior Counsel were retained. Eventually, the proceedings settled. But in all the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’, Ms Lawless ran up legal fees of €176,433.65.

  2. A comprehensive fee note issued to Ms Lawless on or about 7th November, 2011, and has been placed before the court in evidence. This indicates that the fees payable by Ms Lawless comprise, inter alia, €120k of solicitors’ fees, almost €40k of fees for Senior Counsel, and €24k for junior counsel. These are enormous, though not at all untypical, fees that point to a continuing deficiency in our legal system whereby full and proper legal representation, at least in civil proceedings, is increasingly a boon that is properly affordable by the few who are rich, and a bane to be feared by the many who are not.

  3. Ms Lawless is one of the ‘many’, and her affidavit evidence in this case makes for unhappy reading. A woman in her mid-seventies, she cannot afford even the legal fees necessary to come represented to this application for summary judgment. She is worried that the house she owns will need to be sold to meet the legal fees that she now owes. But the difficulty that presents for Ms Lawless, a competent adult, is that she freely engaged the various lawyers who are now pursuing her for fees, they did substantial work for her and, whatever one may make of the levels of fees arising, Ms Lawless has, in truth, no defence to the within application for summary judgment. She has instituted proceedings for negligence against her onetime solicitors, but that is a separate matter. If the court applies the test stated by Hardiman J. in Aer Rianta c.p.t. v. Ryanair Limited [2001] 4 I.R. 607, 623, it is very clear that Ms Lawless has no defence, not even an arguable defence, in terms of her liability to pay the legal fees now long arising for payment by her. Even bringing to these summary...

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