If you cannot afford to pay a solicitor, you may be entitled to legal aid.
The aid that you may receive depends on the type of case that you are involved in.
- If you are pursuing a civil case (for example, if you were injured and are seeking compensation), you may be entitled to civil legal aid.
- If you are accused of a crime and need legal advice, you may be entitled to criminal legal aid.
Civil legal aid
The Legal Aid Board provides legal advice and representation in court to people who cannot afford to pay for a solicitor. To qualify for civil legal aid, you must show that you have an annual disposable income of under €18,000. You must also have disposable capital assets (not including your family home) of under €100,000 in value.
If you are applying for civil legal aid, you must pay a contribution towards the cost of your case. The minimum contribution is €30 for legal advice, and €130 for legal representation. This can rise depending on your means.
In some cases, the Legal Aid Board will require you to repay some or all of its costs at the end of the case. However, it will only pursue costs from money that it has recovered for you.
For more information on civil legal aid, see the Legal Aid Board website. You can also contact the Legal Aid Board by calling 1890 615 200.
Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC)
Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) is an independent voluntary organisation offering free and confidential legal advice to people at clinics nationwide. To find out more, and get information on the nearest FLAC clinic, visit the FLAC website.
Criminal legal aid
If you are accused of a crime and cannot afford to pay a solicitor, then the State may provide you with legal representation through the criminal legal aid system. You have a constitutional right to legal advice in criminal cases and this includes the right to a solicitor where you do not have the means to pay for one.
Applying for legal aid
You can apply for legal aid at the District Court, where almost all criminal cases begin, or in the Special Criminal Court, where some criminal cases begin.
If you apply for legal aid, you will need to explain your circumstances (whether you are unemployed or on a low income) to the judge. You may be asked to complete a form setting out your income, family circumstances and any other relevant details. It is an offence to knowingly make a false statement or a false representation when applying for criminal legal aid. If you are convicted of this, you may be liable for a fine of up to €2,500, imprisonment for up to six months, or both.
The judge may also ask the prosecuting Garda if the Gardaí have any objections to your application for legal aid.
Granting legal aid
The judge will consider two factors in considering your application:
- Whether you are able to pay for your own legal advice.
- The seriousness of the charge.
If the judge decides to grant criminal legal aid, he or she will assign the case to a solicitor on the legal aid panel. If you want to be represented by a particular solicitor on the panel, the judge will assign the case to that solicitor if he or she is available. If the judge refuses to assign a solicitor nominated by you, he or she must state the reason and enquire whether you wish to nominate any other solicitor.
The legal aid scheme will cover the costs of preparing and conducting your defence in court, and the cost of an appeal. The fees for a solicitor and, in some cases, barristers, are included in this. If a defending solicitor or barrister believes it is necessary to hire outside experts (such as doctors or forensic scientists), their fees will also be covered.
Custody Issues Scheme
The Legal Aid - Custody Issues Scheme covers the fees for a solicitor and barrister in certain cases not covered by the civil or criminal legal aid schemes, where you cannot afford to pay them yourself. It was previously called the Attorney General’s Scheme. The Scheme applies in the following cases:
- Applications for bail in the High Court or Supreme Court.
- Judicial review proceedings on certain matters (Certiorari, Mandamus or Prohibition, and concerning criminal matters, or matters where the liberty of the applicant is at issue).
- Applications under the Extradition Act 1965 and the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003.
- Habeas Corpus (Article 40.4.2) Applications.
You can find out more about the scheme on the Legal Aid Board website.
Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme
A separate Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme provides legal advice to defendants in court proceedings brought by the Criminal Assets Bureau. It also covers the following cases:
- Social welfare appeals made to the Circuit Court under Section 307 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005.
- Applications made by the Director of Public Prosecutions under Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994.
- Tax appeals made to the Circuit Court where the Criminal Assets Bureau is the defendant.
If you believe that you may be entitled to legal aid under the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) Ad-Hoc Legal Aid Scheme, you must apply to the court dealing with your case. The court will decide on the legal representation and witness expenses that you are entitled to. You can find out more about the scheme on the Department of Justice and Equality website.