Proposed changes to criminal legal aid scheme must preserve right of access to justice, says rights organisation

25 August 2009

The State should take care to preserve people's right to real and effective justice if it seeks to change the way it administers criminal legal aid, stressed a leading legal rights organisation today.

Reacting to earlier reports that the Government proposes to amend the criminal legal aid scheme, legal rights organisation FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) said that it was crucial that the State kept in mind the prime function of legal aid, namely to allow people real and effective participation in their own trials.

"Civil legal aid, which is legal aid for anything other than criminal matters, is already subject to a very complex means test and is heavy with regulations and bureaucracy. This can lead to inflexibility and real unfairness," commented FLAC's director Noeline Blackwell in response to reports that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is proposing to introduce a means test for criminal legal aid.

FLAC says its experience with civil legal aid has shown that means testing and other bureaucratic measures do create barriers to people seeking to access their rights who cannot afford to engage a private lawyer.

"The State would want to ensure that any new systems it proposes to introduce for criminal legal aid do not repeat the mistakes of the current civil legal aid scheme, which can be time consuming, inefficient and lead to people being denied the right of proper participation in courts and legal processes affecting their lives," Ms Blackwell added.



Editors' notes:

  1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation dedicated to the realisation of equal access to justice for all. It campaigns through advocacy, strategic litigation and authoritative analysis to contribute to the eradication of social and economic exclusion.
  2. You can read more about FLAC's work on civil legal aid online.
  3. The latest copy of FLAC's newsletter is available online in PDF format.