The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 provides that free legal aid may be granted, in certain circumstances, for the defence of persons of insufficient means in criminal proceedings.
An accused person is entitled to be informed by the court in which he or she is appearing of his or her possible right to legal aid. The grant of legal aid entitles the applicant to the services of a solicitor and, in certain circumstances, up to two counsel, in the preparation and conduct of his or her defence or appeal.
The courts, through the judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid.
An application for legal aid may be made to the court either:
An applicant for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his or her means are insufficient to enable him or her to pay for legal aid him or herself. This is purely a discretionary matter for each court and is not governed by any financial eligibility guidelines. 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. However, where the charge is one of murder or where an appeal is one from the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court, free legal aid is granted merely on the grounds of insufficient means.
An applicant for free legal aid may be required by the court to complete a statement of means. It is an offence for an applicant to knowingly make a false statement or conceal a material fact for the purpose of obtaining legal aid. Such an offence carries a penalty of a fine or imprisonment or both.
The Department of Justice has no involvement in the day to day running of the scheme, the granting of free legal aid or assignment of lawyers. These matters are handled entirely by the courts.
A person who has any enquiry in relation to the granting of criminal legal aid in a particular case should contact the relevant Court Clerk/Registrar.
Further information is available at the links below: