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Suspects cost €1,500 each in free legal aid

CRIMINAL suspects are generating bills of up to almost €1,500 each per year by getting free legal aid repeatedly.

They are legally entitled to a solicitor whenever they are detained in a garda station at an average cost of €210 per visit.

New figures show 330 criminal suspects claimed free legal aid in garda stations more than once last year – with two people claiming it seven times each.

The average cost to the State in these instances would be €1,470 per person.

The garda station legal aid scheme is just a small part of the overall free legal aid package for criminal suspects, which cost around €45m per year.

But nothing can be done to deny the suspects their constitutional right of free legal aid in a garda station as long as they meet the means test.

They have to show they are on social welfare or have income of less than €20,000 per year. Everyone else has to pay for their own solicitor.

SCHEME

New figures obtained from the Legal Aid Board show that around 3,300 people in total received free legal aid under the scheme in the first 10 months of last year. Around 10pc received it more than once.

Legal Aid Board chief executive Dr Moling Ryan said there was no power to deny suspects free legal aid.

"Inevitably the public response will be: 'Why should we provide publicly funded assistance for people who are repeat claimants?' But the reality is that this is not just a statutory right, it's a constitutional right," he said.

The cost of providing free legal aid in garda stations has dropped slightly in recent years due to a 30pc Government cut in solicitors' fees.

The cost fell from €1.173m in 2011 to €900,000 in 2012 and is expected to be under €900,000 for last year.

Mr Ryan said the board had recently introduced new guidelines designed to tighten up the granting of free legal aid under the garda station scheme.

The Legal Aid Board provides free legal aid to people on low incomes in civil cases such as divorces, separations and child support payments. Since the end of 2011 it has been responsible for the free criminal legal aid scheme in garda stations.

hnews@herald.ie


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