I put down two amendments, one to Section 3 and the other to Section 4. I can understand the Minister's reluctance to accept my amendment to Section 3 because of the large number of cases it might involve. I asked him the number of convictions in certain years and the reply was that in 1960-61 the number was 99,508. I take it there were as many more cases before the courts where there were no convictions and I can well see the Minister would not be anxious to involve the House in providing free legal aid for over 200,000 cases.
However, in Section 4 I cannot see why the Minister cannot accept my amendment which affects only persons who have been convicted and who might require legal aid on appeal. It is a very serious matter to be convicted of an offence. In Section 3 my amendment referred to any person appearing in court which might include people involved only trivially. In Section 4, however, I am dealing with people who have been convicted. It is then that the thing becomes a serious matter and I am asking that the question of the seriousness of the offences should not be left in the hands of judges or justices—that they should not be given the power of deciding whether or not free legal aid should be granted.
I am putting it to the Minister that any conviction is a very serious matter, that it is not a question for interpretation by the Bench. A person convicted is a criminal and has a stigma for all time. He is likely to lose, among other things, his employment and reputation. What I am asking in this section is that he is afforded the means, if he applies, of getting legal aid and that it should not rest with the judge or justice to decide whether the matter is serious or not.
In the cases where a number of people are charged together, there is great danger that incrimination might result for one of the group who might be innocent. One of these persons might be convicted in the first instance when he had not recourse to legal aid. He may have been at a disadvantage in that respect and legal aid on appeal might result in his being declared innocent. Take the case of a number of children. They see a purse on the strand and one of them pinches it. They are all charged but surely only one of them is guilty? They are tried together and, without solicitor or counsel to cross examine, all they can do is stand there with their mouths open.
The point I am making is that whatever excuse the Minister might have for not providing free legal aid in respect of a person being accused in the first instance, once that person is convicted it becomes a serious matter and he should have the right of free legal aid on appeal. Imagine a person not having legal aid in the first instance and being convicted and then appealing and not having free legal aid on the appeal. The conviction is bound to be affirmed.
In 1960/61 the number of convictions in the Circuit Court was only 143 and the number of convictions in the Central Criminal Court was only 19. People who are convicted in those courts are convicted of more serious offences than in the district court. The evidence shows that a large number of persons are convicted in the first instance and the sentence is reaffirmed on appeal and in neither case have they legal aid. There is bound to be a miscarriage of justice. I am no expert but I am interested in legal matters and I have read a lot of books on briefs to counsel and on Marshall Hall and all that kind of thing and it is laid down in these books that a great proportion of the cases that go to court can be either won or lost.
There are some cases that are certain to fail and there are some that must be won largely depending on the ability of the solicitor and counsel in those cases. If you accept that there are cases that can be won or lost, then it is sticking out a mile that if a person has no legal aid he is going to lose his case. In all cases of appeal a person should be given legal aid where he has not had it in the first instance. I am satisfied that there are many cases of miscarriage of justice.
I will prove my point. I was summoned for having a radio without a licence. I had no licence but, nevertheless, I had a little savvy which the other people in the court did not have. They were all fined 10s. or £1 but I was not fined because I could defend myself. I asked the prosecution witness did he see the aerial. He had to answer that he had not because he had never gone out into the yard to see it. I also asked did he make sure that what he thought was a radio was not an empty cabinet and he had to say that he did not. I asked him did he see any mechanism connected to the wooden box and he said he did not and the justice said the case was out. All the other people were fined 10s. or £1 and I was as guilty as they were but I was not fined.
I am quoting that to prove my point that legal aid is essential. If I had not been able to speak for myself I would have been convicted. I am putting it to the Minister that if he cannot give free legal aid in the first instance he must at least give it in cases of appeal. It would be a grave miscarriage of justice to have people convicted and these convictions upheld on appeal if they have not got legal assistance. The average person is overawed by the court and is at the mercy of the State Solicitor or the Garda both of whom know the ropes very well. I will again ask the Minister to give free aid in the case of appeal.