Question 1: If I am accused of committing a crime how do I qualify free legal aid?
Answer: Free legal aid is one of the most important parts of our criminal justice system. It ensures that each and every individual receives adequate legal representation even if they do not have the means to pay for it.
Legal aid is normally asked for by the accused’s solicitor at a district court level when an accused first appears before a judge.
Whether or not the applicant receives legal aid largely depends on two factors:
Whether or not they have the means to fund their own defence.
The seriousness of the charge or offence and whether, in the interests of justice, an Accused should have legal representation.
To satisfy the first test the judge may ask for a statement of means to be filled out to prove that the accused would be unable to fund his/her own defence due to insufficient income, family circumstances or any other relevant factors.
In practice the second condition is largely a question of whether or not there is a danger, given the offence alleged and the applicants’ previous convictions, of the applicant receiving a custodial sentence. If there is, then an Accused is usually given free legal aid.
Question 2: I was recently arrested and charged for being drunk in a public place. What should I do?
The clearest way to explain your situation is to examine 2 separate matters namely:
1. Consumption of Alcohol in a Public Place
This is no doubt an issue which a lot of people may have contemplated at some stage or other. The fact of the matter is that there is no legislation prohibiting consumption of alcohol in public, but local authorities have the power to implement bye-laws to stop drinking in public places and they often do so.
The reason for this localised treatment seems to be due to the fact that local authorities may wish to allow public consumption of alcohol at certain times while limiting it for the majority of the time. For instance anyone who has walked down Quay Street in the evening during the Galway Races will have noticed that people are allowed to drink on the streets.
Therefore it depends on where you were at the time you were arrested.
2. Intoxication in a Public Place
Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 makes it an offence for somebody to be intoxicated in a public to such an extent as would give rise to the reasonable fear that he or she might endanger themselves or another.
In such cases the Gardai are authorised to remove any bottle or container you may have in your possession, which they believe contains an intoxicating substance. An intoxicating substance can be an alcoholic drink, drug or a solvent.
This is obviously a very wide definition and the element of reasonable apprehension of danger to yourself or others is something that must be proved by the Gardai. This can often be a contentious issue however for obvious reasons the person who has consumed the alcohol is generally not in a strong position to refute claims that they were a danger to themselves or others.
What to do now?
While being arrested is a serious matter, the charges you face are considered minor and as such would be dealt with in the District Court. Your best course of action is to bring your charge sheets/summons to your solicitor and explain your circumstances. They will apply in Court for a précis of evidence, which is the summary of evidence against you. This will include the statement of the Garda involved along with any further evidence that maybe deemed necessary in order to obtain a full picture of the particular offence you may have committed.
Your solicitor will then explain the possible defences available to you and the consequences of your plea of innocence or guilt. It will be up to you to decide how you wish to plea to the charge. For instance if you were, at the time of arrest, in or on your own property or that of a friend, and hence not in a public place then you and your solicitor might decide that the charge is worth challenging a.
If you wish to plead guilty then you can expect to pay a fine.