FLAC welcomes Oireachtas Committee call for review of legal aid
24 October 2019
Speaking following the publication of a report on the Family Law System from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, FLAC CEO Eilis Barry welcomed the report, calling it a timely analysis of a system that is completely outdated, overcrowded and with venues that are not fit for purpose and wholly unsuited for children and the sensitivity of family law proceedings.
Eilis Barry said,
“The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has today called for a major overhaul of the Family Law System – including an integrated Family Court within existing court structures, modernisation of other courts, as well as the introduction of training for the judiciary. Access to the courts and access to legal aid are essential parts of access to justice and the administration of Justice. We agree with the Committee that necessary funding needs to be allocated so that the construction of a purpose built family law complex on the Hammond Lane site can commence as a matter of priority”.
“FLAC made a presentation to the Committee during their deliberations on family law reform and we are delighted to see a range of our recommendations reflected in those of the Committee, including the proposal that a full review of the legal aid scheme be conducted, with particular regard to means test rates, contribution requirements and eligibility, in order to ensure that the scheme is meeting the needs of those most vulnerable in society. We agree with the Committee’s view that the current threshold for legal aid needs to be raised significantly”
Far too many people are representing themselves in family law proceedings. The Committee has recognised the legal problems that arise for people in the absence of proper legal aid.
Ms. Barry concluded
“With this report, there is now a growing consensus that there needs to be broader and deeper legal aid, the Chief Justice has reiterated this recently and FLAC has been calling for it for some time, we also believe that the Legal Aid Board itself wants a review of the allowances and means test. We are now calling on the Minister for Justice to heed these voices and carry out a root and branch review of legal aid as a matter of urgency, and we would welcome the opportunity to provide further inputs to the committee and the Minister in that regard. It is now 40 years since the Airey judgement where Ireland was found to be in breach of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights in relation to its failure to provide Josey Airey with legal aid in her family law proceedings. Given the scale of unrepresented litigants in family courts, we believe that Ireland continues to be in breach of its obligations in this regard.
FLAC also welcomes the recommendations in the report for an updated and modernised Courts website with guides and visual aids to provide easy and efficient access to information for members of the public.
Notes for Editors:
About FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres):
FLAC is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice. 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.
FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250) and free legal advice through its network of volunteer evening advice centres – more at www.flac.ie/help/.
FLAC is an Independent Law Centre that takes on cases where this is in the public interest. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues, including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. FLAC operates the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) which seeks to engage the legal community and civil society in using the law to advance social change.
The Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality Report on Reform of the Family Law System October 2019 is available at:
FLAC’s Submissions are available on our website at: https://www.flac.ie/publications/category/policy/
Issued: Thursday, 24th October 2019.