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Legal Aid

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 1 March 2022

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Ceisteanna (593)

Peter Burke

Ceist:

593. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Justice if she has addressed the matter of free legal aid being granted to repeat offenders in view of her Justice Plan 2021; if this matter is under review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11637/22]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962, which is the primary legislation covering the operation of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, provides that free legal aid may be granted, in certain circumstances, for the defence of people who have insufficient means in criminal proceedings.

Under the Act, the courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid. The Constitution obliges the State to provide an accused person with the means to obtain appropriate legal representation.

In addition, the European Convention on Human Rights provides that every person charged with a criminal offence is entitled to defend themselves in person or through legal assistance of their own choosing, or if they have insufficient means to pay for legal assistance to be given it free when the interests of justice so require.

The Deputy will appreciate that the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme must operate with due regard to these rights and that any unreasonable block on legal aid could give a convicted defendant an avenue for appeal or prohibition of the prosecution.

The overriding concern is to ensure that due process is followed and that no risk arises in relation to the prosecution of a person charged with a criminal offence before the courts.

The assignment of lawyers or the granting of aid are matters for the Court and as such are handled by the judiciary on the applicant's appearance in court. Criminal prosecutions originate in the District Court and if satisfied it is so warranted, the District Court Judge presiding will grant a criminal legal aid certificate.

There is no limit to the number of times that a person can be granted legal aid under the scheme. Whether or not an applicant has received legal aid previously is not a consideration in determining eligibility for legal aid and this information is not recorded by the Courts Service. An applicant's previous convictions are also not a criterion for the granting of criminal legal aid under the Act.

The General Scheme of legislation to amend and update the law in respect of criminal legal aid is being prepared and I intend to publish it later this year.

The key purpose of the General Scheme will be to transfer the administration of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme to the Legal Aid Board and consultation with relevant stakeholders will be undertaken once work on the draft General Scheme is completed.

The new Scheme will involve a transfer of accountability for Criminal Legal Aid expenditure to the Legal Aid Board. Among other things, the Scheme will also provide for better oversight and improved accountability for expenditure, management and control in line with Audit requirements. It will also provide for the implementation of a simple and transparent application system for Criminal Legal Aid and provide for a comprehensive body of regulations to support the administration of the amended Scheme. In the main this will be part based on existing regulations, updated as necessary.

Question No. 594 answered with Question No. 592.
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