Increases in cost of civil legal aid “a tax on the poorest”
13 September 2013
Increases announced yesterday in the cost of civil legal aid may exclude some of the poorest people in the country from accessing basic state legal services, warned legal rights group FLAC.
Describing the increases as “a tax on the poor”, FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell said “The poorest people with the least access to law and to the courts will be further excluded by higher fees they must now pay for legal representation.” The minimum contribution to the state-funded Legal Aid Board has now jumped from €50 to €130, an increase of 160%.
Acknowledging that the Legal Aid Board is doing its best with a limited budget and staff, Ms Blackwell said she was however deeply concerned that the way the Minister for Justice planned to address these limitations was to tax the service users, some of whom are among the most vulnerable people in the state. ”It is not acceptable to cut waiting lists by closing the door on people who need help,” she commented.
According to Ms Blackwell, “What we in FLAC have noticed is that priority cases, like childcare and domestic violence, have increased in number and complexity, which is not recognised in this measure. There has been no increase in staff available to deal with this work, so non-priority matters, mainly family law matters like separation or maintenance – have had to take a back seat.”
The organisation said that the Minister’s recognition of the situation of parents whose children are about to be taken into the care of state need help was “welcome and overdue”. FLAC also welcomed the fact that the Legal Aid Board’s budget, which saw massive cuts in the early years of the recession, has been maintained, albeit at a lower level in last few years.
Ms Blackwell praised the dedicated and hard-working staff of the Board, but queried whether the expected revenue from these charges would be adequate to tackle the present situation where a person might have to wait up to 18 months for a first appointment with a lawyer who can represent him or her.
“It appears that many people who cannot afford a lawyer may have to rely on voluntary organisations like FLAC for access to justice. We offer a first-stop level of legal information and advice for free and in confidence. This is a complement to - not a substitute for - a proper state-funded legal aid service. It is another element in the overall picture of access to justice, where the State has the primary responsibility,” said Ms Blackwell.
“Ultimately we fear that many people who cannot afford to access private legal help but are excluded from state assistance may end up representing themselves in court, which will likely have a drastic effect on how all of us access justice in this country.”
More information on FLAC’s network of volunteer legal advice centres around the country, as well as its information and referral line, is at www.flac.ie/help/
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- We offer basic legal information through our telephone information line and free legal advice through a network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
- You can read more about accessing the civil legal aid system, including the difference between civil and criminal legal aid, in FLAC’s information sheet.
- The website of the state civil legal aid body, the Legal Aid Board.
- The Department of Justice issued a press statement yesterday (12/9) announcing the changes.