Time to repair austerity damage to access to justice

25 February 2016

Feb 2016 - Noeline Blackwell & Ciarán Finlay

Legal rights group FLAC is this morning launching research that charts the impact of the recent recession on how people in Ireland accessed justice through the civil legal aid system. It recommends a suite of measures such as expanding the areas of law covered, dropping fees for victims of domestic violence and reviewing the legal aid scheme to identify whether it is fit for purpose.

The new report, entitled ‘Accessing Justice in Hard Times’ is based on data from FLAC’s own legal information and advice services to the public as well as on information published by the state Legal Aid Board. It shows that people in Ireland did not have adequate, timely and effective access to law and the legal system during the economic downturn. Speaking ahead of the event, FLAC Director General Noeline Blackwell said: “This lack of an effective legal aid system during the economic downturn caused hardship and misery for a lot of people in this country.”

The report is being launched at a Legal Education Session where over 25 PILA partner organisations will learn about how the Irish civil legal aid system works and how it can be used to build equality. Commented Ms Blackwell: “Our present system is unable to deliver the basic right of access to justice to the level expected in a state governed by the rule of law.”

She continued: “Many people who could qualify for legal help are not aware of the service, but those who try to access the state system face serious waiting lists or will find their legal query is not covered by the scheme – even for basic issues such as employment or housing matters.

“The recent recession saw many people needing legal help across a range of complex issues, with complex interlinkages that needed expert assistance. Our report shows an over-stretched and under-funded Legal Aid Board was not capable of providing the necessary support in a time of crisis. That must be repaired now.”

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