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.