FLAC appeared before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on 21 February 2018 to provide expert evidence on a new private members bill proposing multi-party actions in Ireland.
The Committee heard from Eilis Barry and Paul Joyce of FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), Dave Coleman, partner at Coleman Legal Partners and Dr Joanne Blennerhasset, lecturer at UCD Sutherland School of Law, in support of the 2017 bill brought forward by TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
The bill seeks to introduce a case management system which would allow cases of a similar nature to be considered together by the courts. The bill was proposed in response to the recent tracker mortgages scandal, but is intended more widely to accommodate efficiency and reduce litigation costs. The bill was debated in November 2017 in the Dáil, however was seen by the Government to be procedurally flawed and in need of further examination.
FLAC CEO, Eilis Barry,welcomed the intention behind the bill to increase access to justice for vulnerable members of society and disadvantaged individuals. However, Ms. Barry contended that FLAC’s greatest concern at this point was the lack of legal aid for multi-party actions. Available and efficient legal aid would be necessary in order to allow the bill to be effective, particularly for people on low incomes.
The bill was also welcomed by Dr.Blennerhasset who felt that it would help to make litigation more manageable. Under the current system, mechanisms for multi-party actions in Ireland – called representative actions – are inadequate and rarely used. These actions are currently not allowed in tort cases, there is no provision for award of damages and they are not supported by legal aid.
However she and Mr.Coleman, who specialises in litigating multi-party actions, both had concerns surrounding how costs are currently decided in higher courts and the excessive burden they place on plaintiffs. Mr. Coleman went on to tell the Committee of the importance of a proper system for mass tort in Ireland adding that “it’s not about the lawyers, it’s about the citizens in this state and the fact that they are completely denied their access to justice despite the fact that we pride ourselves on the constitution”.
Click here to view the proceedings before the Committee.
Click here to read FLAC’s submission on the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017.
Click here to read the Multi-Party Actions Bill 2017.
Click here for PILA’s FAQ on class actions.