A person charged or accused of a criminal offence will find themselves facing the full force of the criminal justice system and, depending on their own experience, in unfamiliar and intimidating surroundings. In an attempt to offer a measure of protection to the accused and to re-balance the scales, provision is made for that person to have the advice and representation of a solicitor, both in the Garda station and in the courts.
Where the accused is of limited financial means, they can avail of a number of legal aid schemes to cover the cost of legal advice and representation. No financial contribution is required, though a statement of means will have to be completed and vouched. It is an offence to knowingly make a false statement or conceal a material fact for the purpose of obtaining legal aid. Such an offence carries a penalty of a fine or imprisonment or both.
Garda Station Legal Aid
Under the Garda Station Legal Advice Revised Scheme, free legal advice can be provided to those detained under certain legislation in Garda stations, providing they satisfy a means test and are legally entitled to consult with a solicitor. The scheme covers the cost of consultations with a solicitor on completion of a statement of means. The scheme is confined to persons who are in receipt of social welfare and those whose annual earnings are less than €20,316 per annum.
Legal Aid for Persons Charged with Criminal Offences
The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act, 1962 provides that free legal aid may be provided for the defence of persons charged with criminal offences where:
- those persons are of insufficient financial means to cover the cost of their defence; and,
- by reason of the ‘gravity of the charge’ or ‘exceptional circumstances’ it is essential in the interests of justice
Even a person of modest (or more than modest) financial means may be viewed by the court as unable to cover the cost of their defence on serious charges such as: murder, manslaughter, robbery, burglary or sexual offences.
In the case of a young person the court will look at the financial means of the parents or guardians to see if they can afford to pay for legal advice on the accused’s behalf.
‘Exceptional circumstances’ include where the accused is very ill, immature, lacks formal education or is emotionally disturbed or lacking mental capacity to understand the process. If the proceedings are not sufficiently serious, such as for certain road traffic offences or very minor public order matters, then the judge may refuse to grant legal aid. In those circumstances, it will be necessary to come to a private arrangement in order to have the services of a solicitor.
The majority of criminal cases start in the District Court and it is at this stage that an accused person is entitled to apply for legal aid and to be informed of that right. A solicitor can apply on the accused’s behalf, and even where previously refused the application can be re-made when next before the court. The grant of legal aid covers the services of a solicitor and, in certain circumstances, up to two counsel, in the preparation and conduct of the defence or appeal.
The prosecuting Garda will have the right to object to the grant of legal aid. Once a decision is made to grant legal aid, the accused will be allowed to select their solicitor or the judge may assign a solicitor from the bench.
If an accused is sent forward to a higher court by the District Court to have more serious offences dealt with and they have already been granted legal aid previously, they will have to apply again for legal aid, but it is likely that the higher court will follow the District Court decision to grant.
Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme
This scheme covers the fees payable to a solicitor and barrister representing a person in the following criminal matters where that person cannot afford to pay the fees themselves:
- Bail applications in the High Court or the Supreme Court
- Criminal judicial review proceedings
- Applications under the Extradition Act 1965 and the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003
- Habeas Corpus applications
Similar to the above, the scheme is available where the applicant’s financial means are not sufficient to obtain legal representation and the court considers it necessary and proper that a solicitor and barrister be assigned to that person to act on their behalf. Application for the scheme is made to the court.
Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme
This scheme makes provision for legal aid for persons who are defendants in proceedings brought by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), including proceedings brought under the Proceeds of Crime Act, 1996, Revenue Acts or Social Welfare Acts. The scheme also provides for legal aid for:
- Social welfare appeals made to the Circuit Court
- Tax appeals made to the Circuit Court where the CAB is the defendant
- DPP applications for forfeiture of seized cash
Application for the scheme is made to the court dealing with the case.
To learn more or to make an appointment call us today on 01 832 7899 or email info(at)barronmorris.com.
The material contained on this website is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice. Any and all information is subject to change without notice. No liability whatsoever is accepted by Barron Morris for any action or omission made in reliance on the information on this site. If you require specific advice on any legal matter then please contact a solicitor.