Legal rights group calls for ‘legal aid audit’ whenever legislation is passed

Legal rights group calls for 'legal aid audit' whenever legislation is passed

There should be a “legal aid audit” when any new legislation is passed, the head of legal rights group FLAC has said.

Speaking at the launch of the organisation’s annual report, CEO Eilis Barry said it was concerned the Legal Aid Board does not have the resources to deal with new demand following the enactment of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform (Amendment) Act 2019.

The law, which commenced at the start of August, gives greater powers to the Circuit Court to refuse to grant a possession order.

Ms Barry said: “This Act introduces a defence for potentially thousands of people in long-term arrears and a significant percentage of these people are likely to be entitled to legal aid.

“We are concerned however that the Legal Aid Board Aid simply does not have the resources to deal with the significant increase in demand which it will now face. The Abhaile scheme cannot provide legal representation for these people.

“The Legal Aid Board will require a significant immediate increase in its funding simply to deal with the new demand on its already overstretched resources. The welcome provisions of this new Act will only be effective if they can be enforced. It is vital that there is a legal aid audit when any new legislation is passed.”

More than 25,000 people received basic legal information or advice from FLAC’s telephone information and referral line and from volunteer lawyers at legal advice clinics last year, its annual report reveals.

There were 11,486 calls to FLAC’s telephone information line in 2018 and the main queries related to family law (24.2 per cent), employment (10.7 per cent) and housing (7.7 per cent).

Meanwhile, 13,678 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 71 locations nationwide. Family law (34.1 per cent), employment law (15.6 per cent) and wills/probate (9.6 per cent) were the most common legal queries.

FLAC’s Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) provided legal assistance to 115 social justice organisations.

Over the year, FLAC had 108 casefiles, with the most prevalent issues being housing/landlord and tenant disputes (30 per cent), discrimination (22.4 per cent) and social welfare (18.7 per cent).

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who spoke at the launch today, said: “FLAC is such an important organisation, which helps so many people, and I am very pleased to be launching its Annual Report for 2018 as it marks its 50th year in existence.”

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