Freddie Thompson challenges Legal Aid Board’s refusal to pay his costs

Convicted criminal had taken judicial review over alleged oppressive conditions of his detention

Freddie Thompso is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise Prison following his 2018 conviction for the murder of David Douglas. File photograph: The Irish Times

Freddie Thompso is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise Prison following his 2018 conviction for the murder of David Douglas. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

Convicted criminal Freddie Thompson has brought a High Court action over the Legal Aid Board’s refusal to pay his legal costs of a case over the conditions of his detention.

Thompson, from Dublin’s south inner city, is serving a life sentence in Portlaoise Prison following his 2018 conviction for the murder of David Douglas.

In 2019, he brought High Court judicial review proceedings over alleged oppressive conditions of his detention for some 18 months in the prison’s A4-wing, known as the punishment block.

The Prison Service, the Prison Governor and the Minister for Justice opposed the action and said Thompson’s then regime was due to “security concerns.”

That matter, which was before the court on several occasions, was eventually withdrawn in November 2019 after Thompson was moved by the prison authorities from the isolation block and placed with the mainstream prison population.

The respondents did not accept the move came about due to Thompson’s legal action.

In his latest proceedings, Thompson claims, after his 2019 proceedings were struck out, a High Court judge made a recommendation that his legal fees should be covered by the Legal Aid (Custody Issues) Scheme.

In a decision in August 2020, repeated in March 2021 following a request to reconsider the initial decision, the Legal Aid Board refused to discharge Thompson’s legal fees.

It said Thompson did not qualify for the scheme as he had already been convicted, sentenced, and had lost his liberty.

Thompson claims the refusal amounts to an error in law and the board has acted unreasonably.

The board, he claims, has failed to interpret the Legal Aid (Custody Issue) Scheme in the same manner as judges of the High Court.

Thompson, represented by Micheal O’Higgins SC, with Keith Spencer BL, has brought judicial review proceedings against the Board, Ireland and the Attorney General.

He seeks an order quashing the refusal to pay his legal fees and several declarations, including the board’s decision amounts to a breach of fair procedures, took irrelevant considerations into account, and is in breach of his rights under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

He further seeks a declaration the Legal Aid Custody Issues Scheme is constitutionally deficient and unfit for purpose because it fails to provide a facility for obtaining confirmation in advance that an applicant’s case will be covered, and allows the board over-rule a High Court judge,s finding that a case meets the scheme’s eligibility criteria.

Permission to bring the action was granted, on an ex-parte basis, on Monday by Mr Justice Charles Meenan. The judge returned the matter to October.