20 July 2018
Commenting today on the publication of the 2018 Spending Review of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme by the Department of Justice and Equality, Paul McGarry SC, Chairman, Council of The Bar of Ireland said “We welcome the 2018 Spending Review’s recognition that our cost effective and robust criminal legal aid system facilitates a high standard but low cost representation of defendants through skilled advocates engaged by the State”.
“However, the report’s consideration of the introduction of financial thresholds for eligibility to access legal aid would need to be approached with caution ” said Mr McGarry, ”While in the absence of financial information it is not possible to provide any meaningful estimate as to the savings that might be achieved on foot of the introduction of means testing, it is likely that the costs of administering such a scheme would very significantly outweigh the reduction in cost”.
“Furthermore, it could have the significant damaging side-effect of delaying the criminal proceedings themselves while the "means-testing" procedure is carried out, with knock-on delays affecting witnesses, victims and the effective administration of justice” continued Mr McGarry. “Restrictions on access to legal aid could have the un-intended consequences of defendants opting to represent themselves which frequently results in lengthy and difficult proceedings, ultimately increasing costs to the State and causing consequent distress to witnesses and victims of crime” he said.
Mr Mc Garry suggested that “An alternative option is to ensure clearer guidelines for judges as to when legal aid should be granted along with a strengthening of the requirement for accused persons to provide relevant information for such applications, which would probably achieve the requisite reduction without any increase in the cost of administration to the State”
“Council of The Bar of Ireland has repeatedly called for better resourcing of our legal aid system to ensure access to justice for all as Ireland’s spending on criminal legal aid is considerably lower than the European average” continued Mr McGarry. “Therefore, we in particular welcome the report’s acknowledgement that in order to ensure a fair, effective and efficient criminal justice system the fee structure needs to be monitored on an on-going basis.
We look forward to early engagement with the relevant Departments in this regard where the fee rates for barristers instructed in criminal legal aid work are in-adequate to remunerate them for the ever increasing complexity and volume of work done in conducting criminal trials” he concluded.