Graham Dwyer, charged with the murder of Elaine O’Hara, whose body was recently discovered in the Dublin Mountains, has been granted free legal aid by the court.
Dwyer is an architect with an address in Dublin’s prestigious Foxrock suburb.
His lawyers claim that, since being taken in to custody, he is no longer in receipt of a salary and that similar to most mortgage holders in Dublin, his house is in negative equity.
The criminal legal aid scheme costs the state in the region of €50million a year. It is granted at the request of the defence lawyer and is not means tested. It is also granted to those with multiple previous convictions.
To put this in context, €50million would cover the additional funds that Alan Shatter needs to pay Gardaí for the remainder of 2013.
While free legal aid is important to the equitable operation of our judicial process, perhaps the burden of costs should be shared by all parties.
Lawyers’ fees should be capped or fixed and defendants should be asked to contribute.
If they are in possession of valuable assets (for example a plush pad in Foxrock) some equity could be released to cover legal costs, likewise if the defendant is in receipt of welfare payments, a portion of these should be withheld by the state.
This would act as an effective deterrent for many repeat offenders.