Clink on the link above of the Judgement of O’Donnell J in Joyce -v- District Judge Patrick Brady 29/7/11 on the issue of entitlement to legal aid.
I have been practicing criminal law since 1999 and in my time both as a prosecutor, and in the last number of years as a defence solicitor, at the cold face of our Courts I have often taken cases pro bono, or have had to decline to take instructions in cases as legal aid would not be granted or have been refused to a person of limited financial means. Ironically, it often where a new client or once off client (by that I mean a client who has had one brush with the Gardai) is faced with a criminal prosecution they have been told by a minority (it has to be said) of Judges that as they are not “at risk” of a jail sentence they are ineligible for a certificate for free legal aid. The serial offender gets it as of right, where the person who has the most to lose by a criminal conviction often has to face Court alone unless they can pay privately for representation.
In our current period of economic stagnation, many people are down on their luck and finding themselves before the District Court.
There are thousands of citizens in this State who perhaps have been fined for a criminal offence and thought nothing of its consequence for future employment prospects, security clearance, visa entry, adoption, state positions…….. the law treats them as criminals for life. We are crying out for legislation to rehabilitate offenders who have turned their lives around. Frequently, young people, the unemployed and non-nationals will often plead to the commission of a minor crime without advice from a Court Solicitor.
The Joyce judgement is a welcome reaffirmation not just on the right to legal representation but the practical vindication of that right as it applies to citizens who for whatever reason find themselves accused of a breach of our criminal law. Judge O’Donnell is proving his worth already, as a citizen focused interpeter of our constitution.