Thousands unable to access FLAC helpline due to overwhelming demand
At least 4,400 people were unable to get through to FLAC’s telephone line in 2022 due to overwhelming demand, the independent legal, equality and human rights organisation’s latest annual report reveals.
Mr Justice Frank Clarke, the former Chief Justice and chair of the civil legal aid review group, addressed the launch of FLAC’s 2022 annual report this morning, paying tribute to FLAC and other NGOs supporting access to justice.
“While the civil legal aid review group has not as yet reached any conclusions it seems to me that we have to closely consider the place that NGOs such as FLAC and others play in the overall delivery of appropriate legal assistance or representation to those who cannot afford it,” he said.
“It may well be that one size does not fit all and that an enhanced role for NGOs may be part of the solution. That, of course, raises the inevitable question of funding. Much good work by bodies such as FLAC is done by volunteers but adequate funding is also very necessary.”
Eilis Barry, FLAC’s chief executive, said: “There is a huge unmet demand for early legal information and advice, especially in areas which have a significant effect on people’s day-to-day lives like family law and employment law.
“While FLAC’s telephone line answered 13,556 calls in 2022, we are acutely aware and gravely concerned that at least 4,400 people could not get through to the telephone line.
“Another cause of concern is the sustained demand for employment law information and advice — including over 2,000 callers to the FLAC telephone line — without anywhere to refer callers who cannot afford a private solicitor for legal representation. There is also nowhere to refer the 970 lay litigants who contacted FLAC and who are struggling to navigate the complex court system by themselves.
“Through our casework, FLAC sees first-hand the dire consequences (including the risk of extreme poverty and homelessness) of unmet legal need in areas such housing, social welfare, and discrimination which are outside the scope of the current scheme of civil legal aid.”
Volunteer lawyers in FLAC’s free legal advice clinics provided legal advice to over 3,300 people, with 85 active casefiles in the areas of housing, social welfare and equality.
Clients of FLAC were awarded a total of €48,500 in compensation for acts of discrimination by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) or as a result of settlement agreements in their favour.
David Fennelly BL, FLAC chairperson, added: “FLAC is an active participant in the current civil legal aid review and we hope that this annual report will inform the review and its outcomes.
“As well as illustrating that new approaches to public legal assistance are possible and workable, this report makes it clear that achieving access to justice for all requires a range of measures from information to advocacy, training, representation, research and law reform.
“It also requires innovation, responsiveness and, above all, collaboration. Throughout 2022, FLAC was pleased to work with our valued volunteers, law firms undertaking pro bono work, public bodies such as IHREC and CIB, FLAC Student Societies, barristers instructed by our independent law centre, academics and other civil society and community organisations.
“The work and dedication of each of those groups leaves me with no doubt that, through the ongoing review process and beyond, it is only by working together that we can ensure effective access to justice for all.”