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Ulster's education boards in huge law fee payout

07-01-2008

07/01/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Belfast Telegraph

The Department of Education and Ulster's five education boards shelled out more than a third of a million pounds on legal fees last year, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.

A total of £338,185.43 went on legal advice and legal services as a result of actions being taken against the department and boards during 2006/2007.

The money was spent on defence costs during judicial reviews, industrial tribunals, personal injury claims and other disputes.

Of the boards, the South Eastern Education and Library Board spent the most.

The SEELB - which covers Ards, Castlereagh, Down, Lisburn and North Down - paid out £93,446 of its annual budget on legal costs.

The next big spender was the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) which accrued a legal bill of £64,787.77.

And the Belfast Education and Library Board came in third, spending £56,935.56.

The North Eastern Education and Library Board spent £50,274.80, while the Western Education and Library Board spent £48,226.80.

The Department of Education, headed by Catriona Ruane, spent £24,514.50 defending itself in its own legal disputes.

Payments to plaintiffs and their solicitors, in respect of their legal costs, were not included in the sums.

The figures were posted in response to a written question tabled by South Antrim MLA David Burnside who asked the Minister for Education to detail the expenditure of (i) her department; and (ii) each Education and Library Board on legal advice and legal services due to legal action taken against them, in 2006/07.

Mr Burnside said the figure was "high" and that he would like to see a breakdown of specific types of action being taken.

He said: "It does look like a high amount but I'd like to see the breakdown.

"Legal action is in every aspect of life. People are always taking legal actions, you would like to do away with it, but you can't..."

Mr Burnside said he would table another question requesting further details.

The Department of Education said: "The costs ... relate to judicial reviews, industrial tribunals, personal injury claims and other disputes with the department which cannot be specified due to the risk of identifying the claimants."

In October concerns were expressed about money being diverted from education to fund the £4m compensation bill incurred by the boards since 2002.

 

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