Our free legal aid system needs to be reformed urgently, Fine Gael Senator John O’Mahony has said.
Mayo Senator, John O’Mahony, speaking in the Seanad, brought attention to the fact that the state has spent €428 million on free legal aid since 2009.
Senator O’Mahony said, “I firmly believe that everybody deserves a fair trial however I am worried that our system is open to exploitation. 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, you will be assigned a solicitor there and then.
“I believe there needs to be a thorough investigation of this process. There have recently been high profile cases of people who are on high wages and others who have substantial assets 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,” Senator O’Mahony said.