What is Legal Aid?
In Ireland, if your constitutional right to legal representation applies and you don’t have the means to pay for legal representation, the State is obliged to provide for the cost of that legal representation if the gravity of the alleged offence and your means qualify you for legal aid.
The Supreme Court has held that there is a need to put the accused on equal terms with the prosecution. Without legal representation, an ordinary person without any experience of criminal law and Court proceedings would be at a serious disadvantage against the legal resources of the prosecution.
Legal aid is provided under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962. Criminal legal aid, unlike civil legal aid, is free. No financial contribution is necessary.
How can I get legal aid?
Most criminal cases in Ireland commence in the District Court.
It is at this stage that an application for legal aid may be made. Staunton Caulfield & Co. will speak to you before your Court date about whether you may be entitled to legal aid and will make an application on your behalf.
Ultimately, the Court will consider:
- Whether you have enough means to pay for your own legal aid.
- Given the seriousness of the charge or offence, whether it is in the interests of justice that you should have legal aid in the preparation and conduct of your defence.
To prepare for your application for legal aid, we will ask you for some information about whether you are in employment and your income to determine if you will be eligible for legal aid. If you are not working, it is likely you will qualify for legal aid. If you are working, you may still be eligible, depending on your outgoings such as rent or mortgage, the number of dependents you have or the nature of the charge.
In the case of a young person, the Court will look at the means of the parents or guardian to see if they can afford to pay for the legal advice.
If the offence is not a serious one, the Judge may still grant legal aid in exceptional circumstances., such as:
- If an individual is very ill
- If an individual is a minor
- If an individual lacks any formal education
- If an individual is emotionally disturbed or lacks the mental capacity to understand the process of the Court case.
If you are not entitled to a legal aid certificate under the criminal legal aid scheme, you may be entitled to apply for free legal representation under another Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme & Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme (CAB). We will advise on this scheme if you are a suitable candidate.
It is an offence for you to knowingly make a false statement or a false representation either verbally or in writing or to conceal any important fact from the Judge concerning your application for legal aid. If you are found guilty of this offence, you are liable on conviction to a class C fine or to imprisonment for up to 6 months (or to both).
So, for example, if you tell a Judge that you are unemployed (and are granted legal aid), but it later transpires that you were working at the time, you are guilty of an offence.
If the Judge considers that it is appropriate that legal aid is granted, you will be issued a legal aid certificate.
When is legal aid not granted?
A District Court Judge will typically refuse to grant a legal aid certificate in the following circumstances:
- Where the Judge decides that the matters before the Court are not serious enough. For example, some road traffic offences and other minor offences.
- Where the Judge decides that you have enough means to pay for your own legal representation
- Extradition proceedings.
- Most judicial review proceedings.