Legal aid on trial

The legal aid system was a source of much discussion at Mullingar District Court as Judge John Neilan heard applications from dozens of defendants who pleaded an inability to pay their legal fees.

The first application was made by Mr Robert Marren in the case of Colm Dinnegan (30 ) of 48 Grange Meadows who was first on the court list.

Mr Marren requested junior and senior counsel for his client, citing the “serious” nature of the charge before the court. However Judge Neilan said he would not consider senior counsel and instead would leave the matter for the trial judge to decide.

“Whether or not there are sufficient in the Law Library to facilitate everyone is not an issue I need address,” he added.

Judge Neilan repeatedly reminded defendants of their obligations to be truthful to the court regarding their income, likening the situation to perjury where it is up to the State to decide whether information is untrue and then take a prosecution if necessary.

Defendants could present oral evidence of their circumstances to the court or present a statement of means and be cross-examined on it.

He was anxious that none of the defendants would be prejudiced by their cross-examination by Gardaí as a result of information they might give or questions they might be asked while on oath.

However the judge was also anxious that those who could afford to pay their legal bills should do so.

On a number of occasions he drew attention to the plight of pensioners who have done great service to the country and are obliged now to survive on around €200 per week. He also mentioned other groups who are dependent on the State, such as those who have special needs or are disabled.

 

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