Local Independent councillor Michael O’Brien has called for free legal aid to be abolished for habitual criminals.
Speaking at last Tuesday’s meeting of the Athlone Municipal District, Cllr O’Brien said “the gravy train has got to stop” for those who repeatedly break the law and end up in court.
Cllr O’Brien spoke of a recent case he read about concerning an individual who had appeared before a judge 102 times, and asked whether a person like that should be repeatedly allowed free legal representation.
With regard to how other countries approach the issue, Cllr O’Brien said free legal aid is means tested in the United Kingdom, while the United States has a three strike rule, whereby offenders receive state aid for their first three appearances in court, but have to make a contribution thereafter.
Cllr O’Brien acknowledged that free legal aid is a must in a democratic country such as Ireland.
“It is there for people who need it, but it should not be taken advantage of,” he said. “Vulnerable people should be supported, but not thugs and scumbags, it has to stop.”
It was determined that a letter would be sent to the Department of Justice requesting a review of existing practices.