Karam gets $330,000 in legal aid

Last updated 05:00 10/06/2009
KIRK HARGREAVES/ The Press
FAREWELL MESSAGES: David Bain at Christchurch Airport, where he was treated like a rock star by well-wishers, several of whom hugged and touched him.

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David Bain's champion, Joe Karam, has received more than $330,000 in legal aid since the Privy Council overturned Bain's convictions two years ago.

The amount Karam received from July 16, 2007, to April 30 this year breaks down to $265,413 for his time and $66,180 for travel, accommodation and living costs.

Bain was acquitted in the High Court in Christchurch last Friday on five murder charges, and Bain and Karam left Christchurch for Auckland about 1pm yesterday.

At Christchurch Airport, Bain was treated like a rock star by well-wishers, several of whom hugged and touched him.

The Legal Services Agency disclosed yesterday that Karam was paid $75 an hour initially, and this was increased to $95 an hour from January last year.

"Joe Karam was approved to assist the legal team with general research and investigation in relation to witnesses, documentation and exhibits, both prior to and during the retrial," the agency said.

Karam has, since 1996, fought a campaign to gain Bain a new trial for the 1994 murders of his family in Dunedin.

Karam said he had worked 70 to 80-hour weeks on the case in the past two years.

He has told The Press previously that he never counted the exact cost of campaigning for Bain, but reckoned it must be millions of dollars.

His 200 or so visits to Bain in prison probably cost about $100,000 in flights, accommodation and time lost, he said.

Bain's lawyers, Michael Reed, QC, of Auckland, Helen Cull, QC, and Paul Morten, both of Wellington, and Karam's son, Matthew, who has been paid since the retrial started on March 6, have received $903,059 in legal aid.

Reed and Cull were paid $198 an hour, Morten $182 an hour and Matthew Karam $120 an hour.

The defence team has received legal aid of $1.15 million for disbursements such as court filing fees, DNA and blood tests, specialist reports, witnesses, research, investigators and accommodation and reasonable living costs. The total spent by the defence on overseas expert witnesses was $201,759.

"We are still waiting for final invoices, and the final amount will not be known until all invoices have been received and assessed," the agency said.

Bain received $706,127 in legal aid for his first trial in 1995, the original Court of Appeal in the 1995 hearing and the original Privy Council hearing in 2006.

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The Crown's costs for the trial, including pre-trial hearings and three Privy Council hearings, have almost been finalised, with a total figure of $1.17m.

Legal fees charged by prosecutors Kieran Raftery, from the Crown solicitor's office in Auckland, and Robin Bates, the Crown solicitor for Dunedin, came to $899,349, with their disbursements for travel, accommodation and other case expenses totalling $280,450.

The other prosecutor in the Crown team was Deputy Solicitor-General Cameron Mander, who continued to draw his Crown Law Office salary during the trial.

Dunedin police communications manager Vivien Pullar said police had spent about $450,000 during the re-investigation on travel and accommodation for police and witnesses. The amount excluded salaries.

Prominent Christchurch lawyer Philip Hall said the Bain case showed "what a well-funded defence team can do to what appears to be some pretty solid forensic evidence for the Crown".

"I'm absolutely staggered by the amount they got, but good on them."

He said Karam deserved his legal aid money because without him "the wheels might have fallen off the defence".

"I can understand there is some justification of payment for him because he more than anybody had a real handle on all the nuances of the case and must have been a fantastic resource for the defence," Hall said.

Bain is repaying some of his legal aid costs.

A Legal Services Agency spokeswoman said Bain had three legal aid grants for his retrial.

His ability to repay the debt was assessed for each application, "depending on his circumstances at that time", she said.

Bain did not have to repay any of the retrial costs, but had a repayment scheme for his pre-trial matters. The agency said the information was private.

An assessment of people's ability to repay some or all of their legal aid is made at the time the grant is made and depends on their income and assets.

The spokeswoman said that even if Bain were awarded compensation or gained money from his family's estate in the future, he would not have to pay more money back.

"Changes to a person's financial situation once a matter has been concluded cannot be taken into account retrospectively," the spokeswoman said.

Two rulings on evidence relating to the David Bain retrial could be released after court action in Wellington tomorrow.

Fairfax Media, which owns The Press, and media organisation APN have applied to the Supreme Court to lift suppression orders on the decisions ruling that the evidence should not go to the Bain jury.

Bain's lawyers oppose lifting the suppression orders.

One of the pieces of evidence was ruled inadmissible by the Court of Appeal and the other was rejected by the Supreme Court in an 11th-hour bid in the week the Bain trial started.

- By MARTIN VAN BEYNEN, The Press

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