In June 2022, the Minister for Justice established a group to review the Civil Legal Aid scheme for the first time in its more than 40-year history. Former chief justice, Frank Clarke was appointed in June to lead the review group to make recommendations for the future of the civil legal aid scheme. The group is required to develop a comprehensive approach to consultation and engagement to inform its review of the Scheme.
A call for submissions was published on 13 November seeking views from stakeholders in relation to the Civil Legal Aid scheme. The consultation will run until Friday 6 January 2023 and marks the first part of a multi-phase consultation process aimed at capturing a broad range of views across society.
Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee said, “This review will allow for an assessment of how flexible and responsive the scheme is to the needs of those it is intended to serve.”
Frank Clarke said, “Throughout my career I have striven to broaden access to justice across the Irish legal system. Ensuring that we have a fair and robust civil legal aid scheme is key to achieving this.”
Eilis Barry, Chief Executive of Ireland’s leading access to justice organisation, FLAC urges stakeholders to submit their views, "For anyone interested in access to justice, this is a once in a generation opportunity to have your say on what your ideal legal aid system would look like and what sort of functions it should have. What sort of services should it deliver? What is the best way to deliver legal assistance to people experiencing poverty discrimination and/or disadvantage? Please take the time to send in your views"
The review group has indicated it will, in the coming months, launch a third consultation specifically designed to enable hard-to-reach groups to contribute to the discussion and have their voices heard.
The current Civil Legal Aid scheme was established in 1979 on an administrative basis, before being placed on a statutory footing by way of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995. The Scheme is administered by the Legal Aid Board. The scheme is governed by the 1995 Act (as amended), and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2021. The scheme provides for legal advice and legal representation for eligible individuals for civil proceedings (other than certain excluded matters) in the District, Circuit, High and Supreme Courts as well as the Court of Appeal and on foot of certain referrals to the European Court of Justice. With the exception of representation of persons seeking International Protection before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, legal aid is not currently available for the conduct of proceedings before an administrative tribunal. The scheme caters for a range of civil law issues, but the majority of persons who have presented to the Board over the past number of years have done so in relation to family law or childcare proceedings. Many of these are prioritised by the Board, including domestic violence, childcare, child abduction and cases which have a statutory time limit nearing expiry.