Dundalk as it Happens
McGahon calls for urgent reform of free legal aid system
Local councillor John McGahon has called for an urgent reform of the free legal aid system.
The Fine Gael representative has revealed that €428m has been spent on free legal aid by the State since 2009.
He has expressed fears that the system is “open to exploitation” and has called for a three strikes and you’re out system to be brought in, similar to the process in place in America.
“I firmly believe that everybody deserves a fair trial however I am worried that our system is open to exploitation,” Cllr McGahon said.
“Criminals who have committed multiple crimes have been granted free legal aid on each occasion even though in some cases they have multiple assets.
“In Ireland if you have been charged with a criminal offence and are due to appear in court, you can apply to the judge for legal aid on the day.
“You will have to fill in a financial means form. If the judge says that you are eligible for free legal aid, you will be assigned a solicitor there and then.
“I believe there needs to be a thorough investigation of this process. We have seen high profile cases recently of people who are on high wages and others who have substantial assets, yet they seem to qualify for free legal aid.
“In the UK legal aid is means tested and the assets of the accused person are then realised as part of it. Some US States also have a system whereby people get three uses of free legal aid and after that they have to make a financial contribution.
“I believe measures like these should be explored as they would result in considerable savings to the exchequer.
“The Government has indicated that reform of the system is imminent. The Programme for Government proposed the transfer responsibility for Criminal Legal Aid to the Legal Aid Board who will have new powers to compel criminals to pay a contribution.
“With the Government set to introduce more rigorous and objective means testing process for such applications, as well as increasing the sanction for false declarations and improving prosecution in cases of abuse, all avenues need to be explored,” said Councillor McGahon