Criminal Legal Aid
If you have been charged with a criminal offence and are worried about legal costs contact us today.
Phelim O'Neill solicitors are on the legal aid panel nationwide and will be in a position to apply for legal aid on your behalf. We will advise you and prepare a financial means form to submit to the court in support of your application.
If you have a query about legal aid in a particular case please feel free to contact us.
IF YOU REQUIRE CRIMINAL LEGAL AID CALL (086)8386296
An Introduction to Criminal Legal Aid
In Ireland if your constitutional right to legal representation applies and you don't have the means to pay for legal representation, then the State (or Government) is obliged to provide that legal representation.
The Supreme Court has held that there is a need to put the defendant 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 up against the legal resources of the prosecution. It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court decided that it is only in certain circumstances that somone has a constitutional right to legal representation. There is no absolute constitutional right to it.
The main legal aid available to someone accused of a crime is the legal aid provided under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962. Criminal legal aid, unlike civil legal aid, is free. No financial contribution is necessary.
If a judge considers that it is appropriate that you are granted criminal legal aid, you will be issued a legal aid certificate. However, in some cases a legal aid certificate may not be available. In those cases you may be entitled to apply for free legal representation under another scheme such as the Criminal Assets Bureau's Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme or the Attorney General's Scheme. (See 'Other legal aid schemes' below)
All criminal cases in Ireland start in either the District Court or the Special Criminal Court. The majority of cases start in the District Court. It is at this stage that you are entitled to apply for legal aid.
If a charge carries a possible prison sentence and you, as the defendant, are not legally represented, the District Court judge is required to inform you that you may be entitled to legal aid. If you wish to be legally represented and you claim that you can't afford it, the judge must consider whether you qualify for free legal aid.
What are the factors the judge must consider?
In deciding whether or not you qualify for free legal aid under the criminal legal aid scheme, the judge must consider the following:
Whether your means are enough to enable you to pay for your own legal aid
Given the seriousness of the charge or offence, whether it is in the interest of justice that you should have legal aid in the preparation and conduct of your defence.
Normally an application for legal aid will be as straightforward as explaining to the judge that you are unemployed and give them details of your social welfare payments, or if you are on a low income, your salary. Sometimes the judge will ask a prosecuting Garda if the Gardaí have any objections to legal aid being granted. The Gardaí will rarely object unless they have proof that you are being untruthful to the court about your means.
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.
The court may require a written statement from you setting out your income, family circumstances and any other relevant details. This written statement must be made on a form which is available from the District Court clerk at the District Court offices.
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 in relation to 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 six 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.
In what cases is legal aid granted?
Generally the rule is that if the offence is a serious one and you can’t afford to pay for your own legal advice, then the court grants a legal aid certificate.
In assessing the seriousness of the case the judge considers the possibility of you receiving a prison sentence or large fine if convicted.
If the offence is not a serious one, the judge may grant legal aid in exceptional circumstances. Such exceptional circumstances include the following:
If you are very ill
If you are immature
If you lack any formal education
If you are emotionally disturbed or lack the mental capacity to understand the process of the court case.
In what cases is legal aid not granted?
A District Court judge will normally refuse to grant a legal aid certificate in the following circumstances:
Where the judge is of the view that the matters before the court are not serious enough. For example, road traffic offences and other minor offences
Where the judge is of the view that you have enough means to pay for your own legal representation
Most judicial review proceedings.
In some cases, however, where a legal aid certificate is not available, a person may be entitled to apply for free legal representation under another scheme. You can find information on other free legal aid schemes below.
Can I appeal the refusal by a judge to grant me legal aid?
No, there is no appeal procedure for the refusal of criminal legal aid. You can however make another application in a higher court if the matter is sent forward for hearing to a higher court.
Legal aid granted in the District Court only covers District Court proceedings. If you are sent forward to a higher court by the District Court to have your case dealt with and you have already been granted free legal aid, it will be necessary for you to apply to that higher court for legal aid for your trial. It is very unlikely that the higher court would refuse to grant a legal aid certificate if the District Court has already granted a certificate.
Can I choose my solicitor?
If you express a desire to be represented by a particular solicitor from the panel, the judge assigns that solicitor if he/she is available. The constitutional right, however, to free legal aid for certain defendants does not extend to an absolute right to choose a particular solicitor. However, in our experience we have always been assigned to a case once our client has requested our office.
There is no specific legal obligation on either solicitors or barristers to participate in the free legal scheme. Each county registrar is obliged to compile and maintain a list of solicitors who are willing to participate in the scheme in the courts within their area. We are registered and available tin any court in the country.
What costs does the scheme cover?
When a legal aid certificate is granted for court proceedings it entitles you to free legal aid for fees, costs or expenses which are incurred in the preparation of and the conduct of your defence. It also covers the cost of an appeal or a case stated. The fees included are those of a solicitor and in certain circumstances, up to two counsel or barristers.
The legal aid certificate also covers the fees of non-legal professionals who may be required for the preparation and conduct of your defence. Examples of these are:
In a case where a defence solicitor or barrister considers the services of such experts are necessary, their expenses are covered by the legal aid certificate.
How to apply
In almost all cases, the application for criminal legal aid is made on your first appearance in the District Court. The judge informs you of your right to free legal aid and it is at this stage that the application is made by you.
If your case is sent forward to a higher court for hearing (for example the Circuit Court or Central Criminal Court), your solicitor (if one was assigned to you in the District Court) will apply to the Circuit Court for legal aid on your behalf.
Other legal aid schemes
In those cases where 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 scheme.
Garda Station Legal Advice Revised Scheme
The Legal Aid Board has been responsible for the administration of this Scheme since October 2011. The Garda Station Legal Advice Revised Scheme provides for legal advice to detainees in Garda Stations. Phelim O'Neill has many years of experience attending client's at Garda Station Interviews and can advise you immediately as to your eligibility for free legal aid, in circumstances that you have been arrested for the purpose of a garda station interview.
The Scheme is subject to specific terms and eligibility criteria please call us today and we can discuss your individual case over the telephone.
* NEVER GIVE ANY STATEMENT OR ENGAGE IN A POLICE STATION INTERVIEW WITHOUT FIRST SEEKING LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE BEEN CONTACTED BY THE GARDAI IN RELATION TO ANY CRIMINAL MATTER CALL US IMMEDIATELY 24 HOURS A DAY ON 0868386296.
Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme
The Legal Aid Board has been responsible for the administration of the Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme (LA-CIS) since June 2012. This Scheme provides, in certain circumstances, for legal representation in certain types of cases like Extradition, European Arrest Warrant, High Court Bail Applications (and Bail appeals to the Court of Appeal), Habeas Corpus and certain types of Judicial Review.
The Scheme is subject to specific terms and eligibility criteria.
Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) – Ad-hoc Legal Aid Scheme
The Legal Aid Board has been responsible for the administration of the CAB Scheme since January 2014. The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) Ad-hoc Legal Aid Scheme provides for legal representation in certain cases which do not fall under the Civil Legal Aid or Criminal Legal Aid Schemes. The types of cases include Proceeds of Crime cases, Social Welfare and Tax Appeals where the Criminal Assets Bureau or its Chief Bureau Officer or any member of the Criminal Assets Bureau is the Respondent and / or Defendant.
The Scheme is subject to specific terms and eligibility criteria.
FURTHER INFORMATION ABOUT CRIMINAL LEGAL AID
The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 provides that free legal aid may be granted, in certain circumstances, for the defence of persons of insufficient means in criminal proceedings.
An accused person is entitled to be informed by the court in which he/she is appearing of his/her possible right to legal aid. The grant of legal aid entitles the applicant to the services of a solicitor and, in certain circumstances, up to two counsel, in the preparation and conduct of his/her defence or appeal.
The courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid. An application for legal aid may be made to the court either
- in person or
- by the applicant's legal representative or
- by letter to the Court Registrar
An applicant for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his/her means are insufficient to enable him/her to pay for legal aid him/herself. This is purely a discretionary matter for each court and is not governed by any financial eligibility guidelines. 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. However, where the charge is one of murder or where an appeal is one from the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court, free legal aid is granted merely on the grounds of insufficient means.
An applicant for free legal aid may be required by the court to complete a statement of means. It is an offence for an applicant 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.
The Department of Justice and Equality has no involvement in the day to day running of the scheme, the granting of free legal aid or assignment of lawyers. These matters are handled entirely by the courts.
A person who has any enquiry in relation to the granting of criminal legal aid in a particular case should contact the relevant Court Clerk/Registrar.
In this section, find out about:
- Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme (Formerly the Attorney General’s Scheme)
- Garda Station Legal Advice Scheme
- Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme
- Expert Witness Claims
- Criminal Legal Aid - Interpretation Translation Claims
- Cost Reductions - Criminal Legal Aid
- Procedures governing the payment of Criminal Legal Aid fees
- Guidelines on the use of CLA 11 Prison Visit Claim Form by Legal Practitioners under the Legal Aid Schemes.