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Billy Wright Inquiry

Volume 450: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2006

On 1 April 2004 my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) announced the Government’s intention to establish public inquiries into the deaths of Robert Hamill, Rosemary Nelson and Billy Wright, following reports by Mr. Justice Cory.

In his statement to the House that day my right hon. Friend said:

“We will, of course, take all reasonable steps to control costs in the inquiries that I have announced today, including capping legal costs where appropriate”—1 April 2004, Official Report, column 1757.

In line with that statement, I subsequently agreed a number of measures to ensure that the inquiries would, while having the resources to establish the full facts in each case, operate in a cost-effective manner. These measures included maximum hourly rates payable for publicly funded legal representation by counsel and solicitors; and a 40- hour cap on hours that might be claimed in any given week. The chairmen of all three inquiries have taken the need to ensure that the inquiries operate in a cost-effective manner seriously, and I am grateful to them for that.

The inquiry considering the death of Billy Wright is now underway under the chairmanship of the right hon. Lord MacLean. Following representations from him I granted his requests to be converted into an inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 under section 15 of that Act.

Section 40(4) of the Inquiries Act contains a power for a Secretary of State to place conditions or qualifications on any awards that the chairman of the inquiry may make under sections 40(1) and 40(2) in respect of compensation, expenses or legal representation. After discussions with the inquiry, I have decided today to issue the following notice of determination under section 40(4) in respect of awards for legal representation. This notice will not alter the substance of those sections of the inquiry’s costs protocols concerned with the award of funding for legal assistance; but it will reinforce the limits on hourly rates that may be claimed by legal representatives.

The measures the notice contains have been discussed with the chairman of the inquiry and I know will have the support of hon. and right hon. Members and the general public.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has determined under section 40(4) of the Inquiries Act 2005 that the power of the chairman of the Billy Wright Inquiry to award amounts in respect of legal representation under section 40(1) and (2) of that Act shall be subject to the qualifications and conditions set out below, which supplement and are in addition to the terms and conditions in the protocol for representation and the costs of legal representation when funded at public expense published by the inquiry on 12 January 2006 (“The Costs Protocol”).

The qualifications and conditions are:

1. For the purposes of paragraph 9b of the costs protocol, the maximum hourly rates for counsel and solicitors shall be:

leading counsel £200;

junior counsel £100;

solicitors £150.

2. For the purposes of paragraph 9c of the costs protocol, the maximum number of hours that can be charged in respect of each member of a legal team of an represented party shall be 40 hours per week save that the solicitor to the inquiry can authorise the exceeding of the 40 hour per week cap up to 60 hours for counsel during the oral hearings and for a short period before they commence where he is satisfied that such action is justified, for example, where the work involved in any week clearly needs to exceed 40 hours.

3. For the purposes of paragraphs 5 and 9c of the costs protocol, a witness who is granted funding to cover the reasonable cost of legal assistance to prepare for, and deliver their evidence, shall be entitled to claim a maximum of 50 hours worth of legal assistance.

In respect of paragraph 2 of this notice:

(a) no unused hours in any week may be set off against any other week;

(b) a week shall be taken as commencing on Saturday and ending on Friday;

The hourly rates specified in paragraph 1 and the numbers of hours specified in paragraphs 2 and 3 may only be exceeded with the prior approval of the Secretary of State.