EXCLUSIVE: Longford courts hand out over €700k in legal aid

Liam Cosgrove

Reporter:

Liam Cosgrove

Email:

liam.cosgrove@longfordleader.ie

Taxpayers have been forced to cough up more than €700,000 on criminal legal aid in Longford courts over the past two and a half years.

Exclusively released figures obtained by the Leader this week show the State has paid out €713,157 to legal teams at various sittings of Longford District and Circuit Court since 2014.

Just under half of that sum, or €320,000, has gone towards defence counsels at Circuit Court level.

The largest payout came last year when judges approved €132, 639 in legal aid, a figure which looks set to be closely matched by the €61,014 already sanctioned over the course of the first six months of this year.

Though slightly below its more senior equivalent, Longford District Court has amassed a legal aid bill of €292,256 since 2015.

When combined the two totals accounted for from both District and Circuit Court sittings totalled €612,983 from 2015 until June of this year.

The Leader has also managed to extract information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act into the monies received by prosecuting counsels acting on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

The State does not employ barristers for District Court proceedings but do when more serious matters come before the Circuit Court.

In documents obtained by this newspaper, payments amounting to over €100,000 were afforded to legal representatives acting for the DPP between 2015 and June 2017.

In excess of €40,000 was set aside in 2015 with a more modest €34,820 being recorded last year.
However, based on figures already endorsed for the first half of 2017, those outgoings look set to rise with €24,307 already validated.

When Longford's overall criminal legal aid bill is analysed, the final figure paid out by the taxpayer stands at €713,157 or €24,000 a month and €6,000 a week on average.

Criminal legal aid is entirely free, and is provided to those facing criminal charges once they pass a basic means-test.

Due to the sheer expense involved in defending even basic criminal charges, the vast majority of people facing such charges in Ireland are entitled to aid.

In 2015, 71% of suspects and accused persons in Ireland were entitled to free legal aid with almost all monies earmarked for legal aid coming courtesy of the Department of Justice.

In a statement, the department said under the terms of the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962, courts themselves are responsible for the granting of criminal legal aid.

“The figures include all payments charged to the relevant cost centres, i.e payments to solicitors and counsel including appearance fees, mileage, photocopying, consultation fees etc, and also fees/expenses paid in respect of expert witnesses, translation/interpretation costs, doctor's fees etc.”

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