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Chief Justice calls for civil legal aid to be widened to cover housing issues

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Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Picture: Colin O'Riordan

Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Picture: Colin O'Riordan

Chief Justice Frank Clarke. Picture: Colin O'Riordan

The Chief Justice has called for a major overhaul of civil legal aid amid growing demands for legal assistance in the area of housing and homelessness.

Mr Justice Frank Clarke's comments came as a legal advice charity revealed it assisted almost 1,400 individuals and families on issues relating to social housing and homelessness last year.

The country's most senior judge said a great number of the areas the Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) was involved in did not come within the scope of the current legal aid system.

He also said income thresholds which people need to come under to qualify for civil legal aid were too low and needed to be higher.

"There are potentially people who are above those thresholds who cannot afford to litigate. I think also the scope of areas covered needs to be widened," said Mr Justice Clarke.

He said there were economic and moral arguments for the system of civil legal aid to be "broadened and deepened".

Mr Justice Clarke was speaking at the launch of MLRC's annual report in Dublin yesterday.

According to the report, State legal aid was not available for the vast majority of legal issues arising in social housing and homelessness.

"The very limited legal assistance which is available is often limited to advice only, and is not always accessible to our clients," the report said.

The most common legal issues advised upon by the charity in 2018 included eviction and access to social housing, conditions in emergency accommodation, refusal of "homeless priority" status and conditions in council accommodation.

Irish Independent