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18 May 2022

Criminals that fleece Longford's free legal aid system are little more than 'leeches on society'

Kilkenny jobs - Vacancy for solicitor at  Legal Aid Board in Kilkenny

Repeat offenders and criminals who continually come before Longford courts to cash in on the State's Free Legal Aid system have been branded 'leeches on society'

Career criminals who are cashing in on the free legal aid system are nothing more than “leeches on society”, it was claimed this week.

A special Longford Leader investigation into the costs of incurred by the taxpayer has revealed how over €1.8m has been spent paying barristers and legal firms over the past three and a half years.

Chairperson of Longford Joint Policing Committee (JPC) Cllr Seamus Butler made the statement in response to the seven figure payout earlier this week.

“There is that policy in place which allows people with limited means to be afforded a defence in a criminal legal matter,” he said.

Cllr Butler said the wider system needed to be “looked at” however when legal aid is allotted to individuals who come before the courts on a regular basis.

“An interesting evaluation would be the cost to the taxpayer when it comes to career criminals, not just in legal fees but also in their entire incarceration.

“These people are leeches on society in that they don't contribute anything and instead just commit crime,” he added.

Cllr Butler also said stricter protocols should be relied upon before legal aid is granted to an individual, adding Revenue have a part of play in identifying whether proceeds generated by crime are being deliberately hidden to mislead the courts.

Part of the frustrations aired by Cllr Butler also stem from the ability of crime bosses, who have fine houses, top-of-the-range cars, and all the trappings of a lavish lifestyle, and who still declare negligible income or assets, when filling in a one-page statement-of-means form required of legal-aid applicants.

Independent Cllr Gerry Warnock agreed, saying it was time Department of Justice chiefs adopted a “three strikes your out rule” in awarding free legal aid.

“I do have a big problem when legal aid is given out to repeat offenders,” he said.

“It's no deterrent to these people who just go out and reoffend.”

Nationally, last year the State granted legal aid in 73,611 criminal cases and paid out €61.7 million to solicitors and barristers.

Since 2018 more than €187 million has been paid out in criminal legal aid.

Calls for a root and branch review of the free legal aid system is not the first time the topic has garnered publicity on a local and national scale.

The system has repeatedly been criticised in the past by many as too expensive and open to abuse.

Previously, the Legal Aid Board (LAB), an independent statutory body responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice, said it was time for a "rethink" about how it deals with certain issues in light of waiting lists for its services.

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