Thursday 22 February 2018

McGahon raises legal aid costs

Dundalk Councillor John McGahon has called for 'urgent reforms' of the legal aid system.

Chairman of the Dundalk Municipal Committee, Cllr John McGahon highlighted that the state has spent €428m on free legal aid since 2009.

'I firmly believe that everybody deserves a fair trial however I am worried that our system is open to exploitation. Criminals who have committed multiple crimes have been granted free legal aid on each occasion even though in some cases they have multiple assets.'

'In Ireland if you have been charged with a criminal offence and are due to appear in court, you can apply to the judge for legal aid on the day.'

'You will have to fill in a financial means form. If the judge says that you are eligible for free legal aid, you will be assigned a solicitor there and then.'

'I believe there needs to be a thorough investigation of this process. We have seen high profile cases recently of people who are on high wages and others who have substantial assets, yet they seem to qualify for free legal aid.

He explained that in the UK legal aid is means tested and the assets of the accused person are then realised as part of it. Some US States also have a system whereby people get three uses of free legal aid and after that they have to make a financial contribution.

'I believe measures like these should be explored as they would result in considerable savings to the exchequer.'

'The transfer of responsibility for Criminal Legal Aid to the Legal Aid Board who will have new powers to compel criminals to pay a contribution. With more rigorous and objective means testing process for such applications, as well as increasing the sanction for false declarations and improving prosecution in cases of abuse, all avenues need to be explored.'

The Argus

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