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Question

213. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which legal aid for those accused of crimes continues to be reviewed, with a view to ensuring the system remains cost effective; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35733/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): As the Deputy will be aware, under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 the courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid. Applicants for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that their means are insufficient to enable then to pay for legal representation. The Act specifies that the court must also be satisfied that, by reason of the "gravity of the charge" or "exceptional circumstances", it is essential in the interests of justice that the applicant should have legal aid. The nature of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme is that it is demand led, driven by the incidence of crime, detection rates and the prosecution of cases through the courts system.
In seeking to reduce the expenditure on the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, the rates of fees paid to the legal practitioners were reduced by 8% in March 2009 and by a further 8% in April, 2010. There was also a reduction of 10% in July 2011 in the fees payable in the District Court. Fees payable in the Circuit and higher courts were also decreased by 10% in October 2011 following the reduction in the fees payable by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecution practitioners. A reduction of 50% was also applied to payments in respect of adjourned sentence hearings and travel and subsistence payments from 2011. Following these and other measures introduced in the course of 2011, a 10% reduction in expenditure was recorded in 2012 compared with 2011, down from €56.1m to €50.5. This was the first substantial reduction ever recorded under this Scheme and represents a fall of approximately €10 million, or 16% over the peak recorded in 2009. Expenditure on the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme is monitored on an ongoing basis with a view to identifying any areas where further efficiencies may be achieved.
I can inform the Deputy that a new Criminal Legal Aid Bill is currently being drafted to update and strengthen the system of granting legal aid including transferring responsibility for the administration of the Scheme to the Legal Aid Board. Legislative provisions under consideration include provisions to, inter alia, regulate better the taking of statements of means, increase the sanction for false declarations, enable the Board to verify the means of applicants and to provide for prosecution of cases of abuse.
Provision to give power to the Legal Aid Board to recover the costs of criminal legal aid or to make application to a court to revoke a criminal legal aid certificate are also under consideration. These provisions must have regard to a person's rights to the presumption of innocence, to a fair trial and to be given legal aid, where appropriate. Question No. 214 answered with Question No. 203.