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27 Jun 2022

Longford taxpayer hit with €1.8m freel legal aid bill

REVEALED: Onset of pandemic failing to curb huge payouts

Longford taxpayer hit with €1.8m freel legal aid bill

The taxpayer has paid out over €1.8m to solicitors and legal practitioners defending individuals at Longford courts between 2018 and the first half of this year.

Newly released figures disclosed to the Leader under the Freedom of Information Act show how approximately €1.803, 610 has been spent on the State's criminal legal aid scheme over the past three and a half years in Longford.

Last year, and despite the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, almost €764,000 was handed out to barristers and legal firms, representing a near 80 per cent increase on the €428, 596 which was accounted for 12 months previously.

Last year's figure is more than double what was recorded over the course of 2018 when €376, 393 was paid out to legal practitioners in defending clients at both Longford District and Circuit Court level.

Based on exclusive figures seen by this newspaper covering the first half of this year, the Irish exchequer looks set to be hit with a further €500,000 bill by the end of 2021.

In a statement, the Department of Justice said legislation dating back almost 60 years provided for the State to cover the costs of a person's legal expenses if it was found that individual was unable to meet those costs.

“The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 provides that free legal aid may be granted in certain circumstances for the defence of persons of insufficient means in criminal proceedings,” read a statement.

“Under the Act, the courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid.”

Details of the figures come amid reports government bosses are considering introducing a public defender scheme in an effort to reduce legal aid costs in criminal matters.

It's rumoured such a system would replace the current free legal aid scheme with salaried lawyers in the full time employment of the State who would represent defendants that can't afford to hire their own representation.

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