FLAC welcomes vital opportunity to advocate for fit-for-purpose civil legal aid system
2 June 2022
FLAC welcomes the establishment of a Civil Legal Aid Review Group by the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee. Speaking about the announcement, FLAC CE, Eilis Barry said,
“We are delighted that Minister McEntee has established this Civil Legal Aid Review Group. FLAC looks forward to being part of this essential group. This is a very significant moment in the history of access to justice in Ireland. For over 50 years FLAC has been campaigning for a comprehensive legal aid system.
"The landmark Airey judgment in 1979 and the important recommendations contained in the 1977 Pringle Committee Report on Civil Legal Aid and Advice, unfortunately have not resulted in a fit-for-purpose legal aid system that reflects contemporary unmet legal needs. Our current system has many flaws including a very strict means test, long delays, and numerous exclusions. It does not for the most part provide legal aid in areas like homelessness, access to emergency accommodation, housing, social welfare, discrimination, debt - the sort of issues that FLAC deals with on a daily basis “
Last year FLAC and 44 NGOs called on the Minister for Justice to carry out an urgent root and branch review of the civil legal aid system. Ms Barry continued;
“This review is a golden opportunity to demonstrate the value of and invest in access to justice. We need to devise methods to measure and address unmet legal need. Access to justice needs to be viewed as and treated as an essential service, not and add on when resources allow.
The coalition had also called for the review to be independent.
“We are heartened by the appointment of former Chief Justice with his long stated commitment to access to justice. It is also symbolic of the important role that access to justice should play in our society”
FLAC In addition calls for the review to measure the legal aid system against domestic and international equality and human rights standards, to ensure compliance with the State’s obligations under equality and human rights law, including important international obligations on legal aid and access to environmental justice
“We consider today’s announcement to be a positive milestone on the road to a fairer and more equal society and look forward to participating in this review, and seeking to ensure that the voice of the individuals and communities experiencing poverty, disadvantage and exclusion are at the heart of this review.”
-Eilis Barry, CE, FLAC
Notes to the Editor:
FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an Irish 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 on 01 906 10 10.
Our phone line operates Monday to Friday from 9.30am-1pm. With an additional phone line information service on Monday evenings from 7-9pm for callers who cannot call during the morning.
FLAC provides legal advice directly to members of both the Roma Community, The Irish Traveller Community and most recently the LGBTQI+ Community via specialist legal clinics. FLAC also campaigns on a range of issues including consumer credit, personal debt, and fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid.
Civil Legal Aid, a priority campaign area for FLAC
Further information on the letter sent by FLAC and 44 other NGOS (including the full list of Signatories) sent to The Minister for Justice on the matter of the Civil Legal Aid Review in July 2021 is available here 44 NGOs and advocates join FLAC’s call on Justice Minister to ensure Ireland’s vulnerable and marginalised individuals, families and communities can access Civil Legal Aid
In July 2021, FLAC together with 44 other NGOs wrote to the Minister outlining FLAC’s asks for the review;
- It should be a root and branch review, comprehensive in scope and designed to map unmet legal need;
- It should explore the functions of the Legal Aid Board (including functions such as the provision of information, advocacy, education and research); the eligibility criteria for legal aid (including the means test, and financial contributions), the areas of law covered – discrimination, domestic violence, housing, sexual harassment; and the methods of service delivery (such as community law centres, targeted/specialised legal services for disadvantaged groups and individuals.
- It must be an independent review
- The review should be chaired by a person of status, such as a judge with an interest in access to justice (such as the original Pringle Committee).
Further information on this priority area is available here https://www.flac.ie/priorityareas/civil-legal-aid/