FLAC welcomes the commitment of the Chief Justice on access to Justice
27 September 2017
Legal rights organisation FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), has today warmly welcomed the recent comments of the newly appointed Chief Justice, the Hon Mr. Justice Frank Clarke, in particular his commitment to making the issue of access to justice the centrepiece of his tenure and his call for the reform of the civil justice system.
“The comments of the Chief Justice are particularly timely given that the Court Services are embarking on a new strategic plan. The Courts Service plays an important role in facilitating access to justice by providing information on the courts system to the public and providing facilities for users of the courts. There is a real need for comprehensive accessible detailed information and guides for lay litigants and people trying to access the court system without assistance. We hope this need will be addressed in this strategic plan” Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of FLAC, stated.
The Chief Justice’s comments also come at a time when the programme for government contains a commitment to commission an annual study on court efficiency and sitting times, benchmarked against international standards, to provide accurate measurements for improving access to justice. There is also a commitment to introducing legislation to reduce excessive delays to trials and court proceedings including pre-trial hearings.
Ms Barry added “access to justice is broad, encompassing education, legal advice, legal aid, court procedures and access to an accessible effective and timely remedy. Fundamental to securing access to justice is the State funded Legal Aid Board which has seen increased pressure on its services with inadequate funding. We hope that the forthcoming budget will allow for a realistic review of the Legal Aid Board’s resources to meet the growing demands on its services.” By way of example the waiting list for a first appointment with a solicitor stands at 34 weeks in Navan Law Centre while a second appointment can take over a year as is presently the case in Tallaght Law Centre. “The Legal Aid Board will also need additional resources to realise the commitment made by the Minister for Justice to end the requirement for victims of domestic abuse to make a financial contribution for legal aid.” Ms Barry added.
“The Courts are a third arm of government and a functioning democracy needs an accessible and efficient courts system. The Courts Service, together with the Legal Aid Board need to be resourced if the commitment in the programme for Government, the review of the administration of Justice is to be implemented and if the Chief Justice’s concerns are to be acted upon. FLAC is happy to be involved in any assessment and/or review of access to justice measures” added Ms Barry.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres – www.flac.ie) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all.
- We offer free, confidential basic legal information on our lo-call telephone line at 1890 350 250, and free legal advice is available through a nationwide network of volunteer evening advice clinics (see https://www.flac.ie/help/ for a full listing). FLAC also campaigns for legal reforms on a range of issues including personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
- Legal aid issues:
Eligibility criteria: FLAC’s most recent work on the civil legal aid system in Ireland shows that there is an urgent need to reform the eligibility requirements for civil legal aid. The current thresholds for disposable income and capital assets, as well as the limited allowances for childcare, accommodations and spouses/dependents, exclude far too many people from receiving legal aid and do not reflect the current cost of living in Ireland. FLAC’s recommendations around eligibility include:
- Index maximum disposable income threshold. The current legal aid system stipulates that an applicant’s disposable income must be below €18,000—a cap which has not been reviewed since 2006. This number should be indexed to reflect the current cost of living and legal services or at least reviewed annually.
- Provide free legal aid for those dependent on social welfare payments. People who receive a weekly primary social welfare payment should not be required to satisfy the means test and should be automatically deemed eligible for civil legal aid.
- Include other social welfare allowances. The full amount of certain social welfare payments can be discounted as allowances. However, other social welfare payments, which provide additional income support to individuals with once-off exceptional or urgent needs, people with care responsibilities and families on low incomes, are not currently recognised as allowances.
- Increase the capital assets threshold in order to avoid excluding those who are asset-rich but cash-poor. The Board reduced the maximum level of capital resources from €320,000 to €100,000 in 2013. This limited the availability of legal aid to individuals such as farmers or other self-employed people who often own valuable assets, such as land or machinery, but have little cash flow.
- Decrease financial contributions requirements. In 2013, the Board increased the financial contributions required of applicants; however, no increases were made to the financial eligibility criteria applied to applicants. The required minimum contribution for legal aid of €130 is almost 70% of a weekly basic allowances such as welfare, jobseekers’ and disability.
- Increase the deductible allowances for childcare, accommodation and spouses/dependents. The current allowance deductibles for childcare, accommodation and spouses/dependents do not accurately reflect the present cost, as they have not been reviewed since 2006. For example, the Legal Aid Board allows €8000 annually on accommodation costs, whereas the latest DAFT data shows that the average rent in Ireland is €1131 per month or €13,572 annually. In Dublin that figure can be as high as €22,416 (South County Dublin).
4. Headline statistics for FLAC information services in 2016:
12,229 calls to FLAC telephone information and referral line in 2016:
- Top areas of law – family (24%), housing/landlord & tenant (8.6%) and employment (7.9%).
- In calls re family law, the main issues were divorce/separation (32.8%), custody/access/guardianship (30%) and maintenance (17.8%). Domestic violence queries formed 8.1% of calls on family law issues to the phone line.
- In housing calls, the main issues were ending a tenancy (28%), rent issues (14.3%), local authority housing issues (7%) and deposit disputes (6.4%). Calls to FLAC were almost evenly split between landlords (42.9%) and tenants (48.2%).
- In employment calls, the top query was on contract terms (33%), followed by dismissal (16.9), grievance procedures (9.7%) and bullying/harassment (9.6%).
13,481 queries recorded at 67 participating legal advice clinics around Ireland – special thanks to the support and hard work of CIC staff and managers and of community centres where FLAC clinics are located:
- Top areas of law – family law (34%), employment law (14.7%), wills/probate (9.5%) and housing/landlord & tenant queries (7.4%).
- In family law queries to clinics just under half (49.2%) of queries related to divorce or separation, with custody/access/guardianship next at 28.9%. Domestic violence issues formed 8.7% of family law inquiries at clinics.
- The main employment law issues in clinics were contract terms (26.7%), dismissal (25.6%), redundancy (11.3%) and discrimination (9.3%).
- On housing, landlord-tenant issues was the main area of inquiry in clinics at 59.3% of queries, followed by rent issues (10.5) and management company questions (9.4).
5.Legal cases: Further information on FLAC’s recent legal casework is at