No ‘conflict of interest’ when Legal Aid Board members practise against applicants

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has refuted suggestions that it represents a conflict of interest for members of the Legal Aid Board to be actively practising in cases against applicants of legal aid.

Under the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, two appointees to the Board must be practising solicitors and two must be practising barristers.

Ms Fitzgerald was asked by Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan to make a statement on the potential conflict of interest where those lawyers are practising against legal aid applicants.

Ms Fitzgerald said: “Board members do not have an executive role and they are not involved in decision making on individual cases save in considering appeals against decisions by the Executive to refuse legal aid applications made on behalf of individual clients.”

She added: “The Board has been well served by many eminent lawyers since its establishment and I think the Deputy will appreciate that handling any potential conflict is an inherent part of lawyers work.

“It does not follow that there is any conflict of interest where a lawyer instructed in a case happens to be a member of the Board simply because one of the parties is legally aided - such a case is conducted in the same way as any other case.

“There may be occasional circumstances in which such a conflict could arise, however I am satisfied that the Board has suitable arrangements in place to address this.”

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