EU dispatch: Irish criminal barristers to strike over legal aid funding Dispatches
Morgan4uall / Pixabay
EU dispatch: Irish criminal barristers to strike over legal aid funding

James Joseph is UK Senior Correspondent for JURIST.

On May 2, 2023, Irish criminal barristers plan to go on strike in response to the crisis in funding for Irish criminal legal aid. The barristers are protesting the failure of the Irish government to comply with Ireland’s “Rule of Law obligations” by downing tools in what they deem a necessary measure. The strike is due to the level of fees paid to practitioners in the District Court, which has reached a crisis point. This lack of funding is concerning and comparable to a parallel situation in England.

Darren Lalor and Luigi Rea, both Irish criminal barristers who have been campaigning on this issue, argue that the Irish State has neglected barristers practicing at District Court level by withholding the overdue restoration of cuts imposed long ago in that time of financial emergency. Fee rates have remained unchanged since 2002, rendering them insufficient. Lalor suggests that this lack of funding has made Ireland the “laughing stock” of the European Union and that “Leprechaun legal aid” does not provide adequate funding. Anyone accused of a crime qualifying for legal aid defense services should be entitled to adequate funding.

Mr Lalor told Irish Legal News that: “I fully support a withdrawal of services. The sooner the better.” In official communications seen by JURIST Lalor claims that “The Irish state has not taken steps to whatsoever to deal with its failure to bring Ireland into compliance with Rule of Law funding requirements”.

The Irish Central Bank’s Governor, Gabriel Makhlouf, wrote in the Financial Times on February 19 that financial growth in Ireland over the year was expected to be “more than treble growth in the overall EU,” which is seen as an affront to those working to uphold the rule of law despite constant cuts. All of this emphasizes the need for the European Union Economic Commission to observe the growth in the economy and the essential services provided by barristers, and for EUEC President Paulo Gentiloni to take action.

Lalor has asked the Commission to institute an inquiry into the matter and make provisions for the payment of emergency funding to create a working criminal legal aid defense system in The Republic of Ireland.

This comes after barristers in Ireland gathered at entrances to courthouses countrywide in March and April 2022 to voice their concerns about fees paid to barristers practicing in the District Court under the criminal legal aid scheme, where potential sentences of up to two years in prison are at stake.

The European Union seeks Rule of Law compliance by its member states and has frozen state funding where appropriate. A breach of the Rule of Law in Ireland would mark a breach of the Rule of Law in the European Union and draw negative attention to the organization.

At the same time, the fight for fair funding for criminal defense solicitors will go to the High Court after the government rejected the Law Society of England and Wales’ offer of mediation to resolve the issue. Additionally, the UK and EU have reached a deal to amend the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has also said he is open to reforming the Office of the Attorney General in response to a Labour Party proposal to increase transparency around the government’s legal advice.

Overall, the strike by Irish criminal barristers highlights the need for adequate funding for legal aid defense services in Ireland, and the importance of upholding the Rule of Law in the European Union.