Letter: Pitiful legal aid rates threaten the rule of law
On 3rd June 2022, a petition signed by 88 senior counsel and 182 junior counsel was hand-delivered to the Department of Justice alerting the minister to the unacceptable state of the criminal justice system in District Courts throughout the State.
A legal system designed to fail not only offends the rule of law but also the rule of common sense. A State that wants a functioning criminal justice system for the price of a haircut or a perm is deluding itself.
The following rates are currently paid to barristers for District Court defence work: €25.20 for a remand, €50.40 for a plea in mitigation and €67.50 for a full trial hearing.
These fees are truly pitiful. No profession can accept these low rates for such critical work. No citizen of any European member state accused of a criminal offence could be expected to have confidence in a service given for such low remuneration.
The criminal bar should be there for all entrants, not just those who can afford to be there for €25.20. Rich and poor alike can have ability and both deserve their chances.
In any profession, all must begin at the beginning. When the starting point becomes the finishing line for many, changes must be made. The State must provide a fair and level playing field for all new entrants to the bar.
The past informs the present that ability is nothing without equal opportunity and fair play.
We live in a democracy. The right to a fair trial was hard fought for. We need to be careful.
Darren Lalor BL