Monday 21 October 2019

Criticism of minor increase in civil legal aid budget


Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

The Government is facing criticism for failing to do more to improve access to justice after the allocation for civil legal aid received only a minor increase in the Budget.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan confirmed yesterday it would increase by €500,000 to €41m in 2019. In comparison, the criminal legal aid budget is set to increase by €12m to €61.3m.

Prominent legal advice charity Flac said the civil aid increase left the Legal Aid Board with "no wriggle room" to improve or expand services.

Civil legal aid involves the provision of advice and representation on civil matters to people who are unable to pay for it from their own resources.

But the scheme is under severe strain, with long waiting times for consultations, narrow financial eligibility criteria excluding many from qualifying and limits on the type of litigation it can be used for.

Chief Justice Frank Clarke recently told the Irish Independent some people were being caught in "a poverty trap" because they could not reasonably be expected to fund litigation but earned too much to qualify for civil legal aid.

Mr Flanagan said yesterday he shared the Chief Justice's view.

Announcing the €41m allocation, he said: "As Minister for Justice I am really keen to ensure that access to justice is for everybody."

However, Flac chief executive Eilis Barry said the allocation left "no wriggle room for the Legal Aid Board".

She said the minister had signalled late last year his officials were open to looking at reviewing the eligibility criteria. "But as far as we are concerned nothing has actually happened on that," she said.

"It is very easy not to qualify under the current eligibility criteria. None of that has been looked at for years. It is very disappointing."

Ms Barry said there was "huge unmet legal need". In particular, she said restrictions on litigation relating to property needed to be urgently examined.

Irish Independent

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