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Written Answers. - Legal Aid Service.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 156. Mr. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell  the degree to which legal aid is available to the general public; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the commonly held view that only serious criminals have ready access to such services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18749/02]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. McDowell): Information on Michael McDowell Zoom on Michael McDowell Under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act, l962 and the regulations made [1226] under it, free legal aid may be granted, in certain circumstances, for the defence of any person of insufficient means in criminal proceedings.

The Supreme Court judgment in the 1976 case, State (Healy) v. Donoghue established that an accused person has, in certain circumstances, which are quite wide in practice, a constitutional right to legal aid and is entitled to be informed by the court in which he or she is appearing of his or her possible right to legal aid. In addition, once legal aid has been granted the case cannot proceed unless the accused is legally represented.

Under the Act, the courts are responsible for the granting of legal aid. An applicant for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his or her means are insufficient to enable him or her to pay for legal aid. This is purely a discretionary matter for each court and is not governed by any prescribed financial eligibility guidelines. However, an applicant may be required by the court to complete a statement of means.

When granting legal aid the court must also be satisfied that, by reason of the “gravity of the charge” or “exceptional circumstances,” it is essential in the interests of justice that the applicant should have legal aid. Accordingly, legal aid would not usually be granted for relatively trivial offences. However, it is almost invariably granted to any person charged with an indictable offence whose means are considered by the courts to be insufficient. Where the charge is one of murder or where an appeal is one from the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court, legal aid is granted once the court is satisfied that the applicant is a person of insufficient means.

It is generally recognised the criminal legal aid scheme has served accused persons well who would otherwise have been unable to retain their own legal representation.

Question No. 157 answered with Question No. 44.

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