The 1998 Estimate for my Department does not contain a specific provision for commissioning outside legal advice. There is, however, a general provision of £310,000 for consultancies commissioned by my Department from which costs of legal advice, if arising, would be paid. The bodies under the aegis of my Department would pay any legal costs from their financial allocations in Vote 3, including costs for outside legal advice, if arising. Specific provisions for costs of this nature would not be identified in the normal course.
Public procurement guidelines, such as tendering procedures, are applied to consultancies. This is inappropriate, however, where legal advice is sought on a confidential basis. All legal fees are evaluated as appropriate to the level of service provided before payments are made. Where minor costs arise the evaluation is undertaken at official level. Otherwise costs are evaluated by the Attorney General or Chief State Solicitor.
In the 1998 Estimate for the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, a total of £5.55 million is available for general law expenses and fees to counsel. The amount comprises £3.45 million for fees to counsel and £1.8 million for general law expenses in the Vote of the Office of the Chief State Solicitor and £0.3 million for general law expenses in the Vote of the Office of the Attorney General. The amount voted to the Office of the Chief State Solicitor almost entirely relates to costs of litigation, for example, legal costs awarded as a result of litigation, witness expenses and payment of fees to experts, such as medical consultants, engineers, etc. Similarly the amount of £3.45 million for fees to counsel provides for the payment of fees due to counsel engaged for litigation on behalf of the State. It would also meet the cost of legal opinions. The funding for general law expenses in the Vote of the Office of the Attorney General includes the legal costs associated with the swimming inquiry.
The Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor have developed procedures for the engagement and payment of fees to counsel which take into account the fact that the offices have no control over the timing of legal cases and requests for legal assistance. These include sanction by the Attorney General and the Department of Finance as appropriate.