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Criminal Legal Aid has cost the State more than €188 million since 2010

Should the government try to recoup that money? One Fine Gael TD says it should.

Image: Four Courts via Shutterstock

A FINE GAEL TD has called on the government to introduce a scheme which could see it recoup some of the money used to provide Criminal Legal Aid.

Figures released to Paudie Coffey show that Criminal Legal Aid has cost the taxpayer more than €188 million over the past three-and-a-half years.

“We must all have an entitlement to legal representation in the courts and the idea of a recoupment scheme would not threaten this principle in any way,” explained the Waterford deputy. “I believe we should look at ways to make services like Criminal Legal Aid more sustainable and efficient in these difficult economic times.”

Since this government took office, the annual spend has been reduced by about €5.6 million annually. In 2010 and 2011, the total expenditure was €56.5 million and €56.1 million respectively but the corresponding figure for last year was €50.5 million, with the spend for 2013 looking set to hit the same mark.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter noted that the reduction of 10 per cent is “the largest ever recorded”, achieved through savings measures and cuts to fees introduced during 2011.

Currently, the State recoups money from the Civil Legal Aid scheme through financial contributions from those receiving services.

C0ffey says a similar programme – which recoups money from its clients through disposable income and/or disposable capital, where possible – could be introduced for Criminal Legal Aid.

“Under such a system, people who avail of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and are subsequently convicted of a crime, would have to repay a certain amount to the Exchequer by contributing through liquidation of their assets or through weekly deductions,” he proposed.

“We must look at ways to reduce costs to the taxpayer across the board and I don’t believe that Criminal Legal Aid should be exempt in this regard. I hope the Minister will listen to my concerns and act upon my suggestions in a positive manner, so that we can reduce the cost of the legal aid bill to the taxpayer.”

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