New figures supplied by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald show the spend last year totalled €49.9m — a drop of €1m on the 2013 figure of €50.9m.
This compares to a spend in 2012 of €50.5m and of €56.1m in 2011.
The fees for lawyers on the criminal legal aid scheme have been been cut by 26% since 2009.
However, the fees remain lucrative. Senior counsels receive a brief fee of €7,127 for defending murder accused in the Central Criminal Court and €1,562 for each day after the first day.
In the Circuit Court, senior counsels receive a brief fee of €1,716 with a subsequent daily fee or refresher fee after the first day of €858.
The largest proportion of barristers practice as junior counsel and receive a brief fee of €4,752 for a murder trial at the Central Criminal Court, along with a refresher or daily fee of €1,041, while junior counsels receive a brief fee of €1,144 in the circuit court and a refresher or daily fee of €572.
Solicitors receive a brief fee of €7,127 for a case in the Central Criminal Court along with a refresher fee of €750 for each subsequent day, while solicitors receive a brief fee of €1,144 for cases in the Circuit Court, along with a refresher fee of €418.
However, the majority of a solicitor’s workload takes place in the District Court, where they receive a brief fee of €200 for each case.
In a written Dáil response to the Fianna Fáil finance spokesman, Michael McGrath, Ms Fitzgerald said: “In seeking to reduce the expenditure on the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, the rates of fees paid to the legal practitioners were reduced by 8% in March 2009 and by a further 8% in April, 2010.
“There was also a reduction of 10% in July 2011 in the fees payable in the District Court. Fees payable in the Circuit and higher courts were also decreased by 10% in October 2011 following the reduction in the fees payable by the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecution practitioners.
“A reduction of 50% was also applied to payments in respect of adjourned sentence hearings and travel and subsistence payments from 2011.
“Following these and other measures introduced in the course of 2011, a 10% reduction in expenditure was recorded in 2012 compared with 2011.
“The nature of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme is that it is demand led, driven by the incidence of crime, detection rates and the prosecution of cases through the courts system.”
Ms Fitzgerald also said “a new Criminal Legal Aid Bill is currently being drafted to update and strengthen the system of granting legal aid including transferring responsibility for the administration of the scheme to the Legal Aid Board”.