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Legal aid testing to save €8m

MEANS-TESTING legal aid for criminal suspects would save taxpayers in excess of €8m per year under a proposed new Government clampdown.

Criminal legal aid cost €55.29m last year -- an 18.6pc increase on 2007.

According to Department of Justice figures, 763 solicitors received €33.35m through the criminal legal aid scheme, while 544 barristers received €19.66m. Criminal lawyers are expected to mount robust opposition to the proposed compulsory means-testing -- which could reduce their earnings .

The Government is now examining the possibility of obtaining the PPS numbers of criminal suspects if gardai or the Director of Public Prosecutions objects to them receiving the free legal assistance.

The PPS number would enable them to cross-check claims by criminal suspects that they have "insufficient" means to pay for a lawyer. Criminal suspects who can afford to pay for their own defence will be denied free legal aid.

Under the proposals being drafted by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, an application for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the courts that their means are insufficient to enable him/her to pay for legal aid.

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