The decision to grant Paul Murphy free legal aid has attracted widespread derision, much of it justified, but it masks a far deeper injustice routinely inflicted on innocent citizens whenever the State moves to prosecute them. Leave aside the fact that Paul Murphy is paid €87 thousand in salary and that his decision to give most of it to a political movement is his own choice. Leave aside the fact that he drew down an enormous amount of money as an MEP from 2011 to 2014. Forget the fact that he’s also in receipt of expenses.
None of that is relevant to the central injustice of the present system.
As matters stand, any person prosecuted by the State suffers an immediate, severe financial penalty regardless of their guilt or otherwise. Why? Because they have to pay for their defence, and the costs can sometimes dwarf any fine a court might impose.
Therefore, simply by taking the case, the State imposes punishment on every person it chooses to prosecute unless that person can demonstrate inability to pay legal fees.
It’s impossible to understand how this can be fair.
It opens the door for every sort of vexatious, capricious and downright oppressive prosecution. It creates conditions where an unscrupulous official is free to inflict severe punishment on innocent people, knowing full well that the State’s case has no merit and will be thrown out by a jury.
Forget about the court granting Paul Murphy free legal aid. His case is just a side-show and in any event he now has his costs covered, even if his argument was somewhat thin.
It seems obvious that, just as in a civil case, if the State brings a prosecution against a person and fails to prove its case, the accused should not be at a financial loss, so what’s the answer?
If an accused person is acquitted, the State should be liable for all their costs, whether that person is a billionaire or a pauper. That’s the risk everyone runs when they take a civil case, so why not a prosecution?
What could be more self-evident?