Almost €5m on legal aid since 2009

More than €4.7m has been spent on the free legal aid system since 2009 across counties Longford, Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon, the Leader can reveal.

More than €4.7m has been spent on the free legal aid system since 2009 across counties Longford, Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon, the Leader can reveal.

Criminal cases heard before Cavan courts accounted for the largest sum, €1.713,817, over the past three and a half year period.

Westmeath and Longford followed close behind with totals of €1,440,230 and €1,018,933 respectively.

The figures, obtained by the Leader through a Freedom of Information request, showed legal aid given to defendants in Roscommon and Leitrim were markedly down in comparison to other counties.

Roscommon cases, heard since 2009, racked up a bill of €428,416 while Leitrim based hearings accumulated a €164,258 total sum.

First set up in 1962, in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act, defendants brought before the courts can apply for free legal representation on the basis sufficient proof is given that they cannot pay for legal costs themselves. Administered entirely by the courts, an applicant for free legal aid may be required by the court to complete a statement of means to back up these claims.

In the first six months of this year however, sums paid out for free legal aid appear to be on the decline.

Almost €49,000 has been allocated by courts in Longford, €45,534 in Roscommon and just €13,184 in Leitrim.

Despite this, Westmeath (€106,917) and Cavan (€196,748) continue to lead the way thanks to a combined total of €303,565.

It’s a figure which politicians have met with some indifference. Government TD and Fine Gael backbencher James Bannon said the finer workings of the legal aid system were in need of re-assessment.

“From what I understand, it (free legal aid system) is being reviewed at the minute. I’d say it probably got out of control over the years and it’s something that is being looked at,” he said.

Mr Bannon, who returned to the Government benches yesterday (Tuesday) following the summer recess, refrained nonetheless from hinting the broader legal aid system was being targeted by Finance Minister Michael Noonan in the lead up to December’s Budget.

The Legan TD’s opposite number and constituency colleague, Robert Troy (FF) said Leinster House leaders must do more to ensure value the taxpayer is not left feeling short-changed.

“It’s important that those with a genuine need to legal aid get it,” he said, pausing to reveal waiting lists were as long as five months in some areas.