Policing operations and the justice system will come under significant pressure in the years ahead unless the Government moves to reduce legal aid payments and Garda overtime rates, a series of expenditure reports warn.
The warnings are contained in two reports by the Irish Government Economic Evaluation Service (IGEES) into expenditure in the justice system.
IGEES also detailed a draft Bill from the Department of Justice which will require those accused of criminal offences to make a contribution to their own legal aid for the first time.
It said this could represent a significant income stream for the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, but warned the costs of administering the new system could cancel out much of this revenue.
The State spent €58 million on legal aid payments in 2017, just €2 million less than the peak figure for such payments, which was recorded in 2009.
In a report covering legal aid, IGEES says increasingly complex laws and recent lengthy white-collar trials have helped to drive the increase. Factors such as the current Garda operations against organised crime will cause the bill to continue to increase in the future.
Unlike other countries, the State operates a black-or-white criminal legal aid system. Defendants are means-tested and if it is determined they do not qualify for legal aid they must meet the full costs of their defence. Those who fall below this threshold have their full costs paid by the State.
The draft Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Bill will introduce a sliding scale to legal aid contributions, meaning those who have some assets but cannot meet the full cost of a case will have to make a contribution to their costs. The contribution would be decided by the courts.