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Criminal cases are excluded from civil legal services

Legal aid for people charged with criminal offences (known as the “defendant” in the District Court and the “accused” in other courts) is not part of the scope of civil legal aid.  These involve the prosecution of criminal offences.

They are recognisable by the title of the proceedings, which in the case of public prosecutions (which make up the overwhelming majority of criminal prosecutions) takes the format “The People at the suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Prosecutor/Complainant) v x (Accused/Defendant)” or (in the District Court) “Director of Public Prosecutions (at the suit of Garda y) (Prosecutor/Complainant) v x (Accused/Defendant)”.

In criminal cases an application for legal aid for the accused/defendant is normally made to the judge.

A person who is in Garda station custody may be entitled to legal aid under the Garda Station Revised Scheme. Also be aware that certain matters which are heard in the civil courts – such as bail appeals and habeas corpus applications (application to bring a prisoner before the court) that are really connected with criminal matters are under the scope of what are known as “ad-hoc” legal aid schemes – the Custody Issues Scheme and the Criminal Assets Bureau Legal Aid Scheme. We administer these schemes, but applications are not made to law centres. They should be made through a private solicitor.

A question which arises sometimes is whether civil legal aid is available for contempt cases.  Broadly speaking, a person can be in contempt “in the face of the Court” (ie acting in Court in a manner which is offensive to the Court) or in civil contempt (e.g. refusing to comply with a court order).  In the former case, the person is facing a criminal charge for which civil legal aid is not available.  In the latter case, the contempt is a civil matter for which civil legal aid, in theory at least, is available.  Part 4 includes guidelines for dealing with non-family law cases where the person’s imprisonment is being sought for breaching a court order. These are general guidelines for which there is at least one exception.  In non-family law debt cases the judge can grant a legal aid certificate as he/she would in a criminal case if he/she is considering imprisoning a debtor for non payment on a debt instalment order.

While the accused/defendant cannot avail of civil legal services, the person who made the complaint – against whom the crime is alleged to have been committed - can receive civil legal advice if the case is a rape case or in certain sexual assault cases. In addition, where the complainant’s prior sexual history becomes a fact in issue in a rape trial, we can grant civil legal aid to the complainant, if they are referred by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Civil legal advice is also available to alleged victims of human trafficking.