Groups call on Justice Minister to ensure legal aid for marginalised people

Groups Call On Justice Minister To Ensure Legal Aid For Marginalised People
A letter sent to the minister said many people do not have the financial means to “vindicate their rights” and access justice. Photo: PA Media
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Digital Desk Staff

Some 45 groups and advocates have called on the Justice Minister Heather Humphreys to ensure that the “unmet need” among vulnerable and marginalised people to access State-funded civil legal aid is addressed in a forthcoming review.

As the Irish Examiner reports, a letter sent to the minister said many people do not have the financial means to “vindicate their rights” and access justice.

The campaign — led by the Free Legal Aid Centres (Flac) and supported by 44 organisations and activists — comes as the Department of Justice prepares to launch a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme in the coming months.

The letter said the review must be a “root and branch” examination and “address the issue of unmet legal need” in Ireland.

Eilis Barry, chief executive of Flac, said: “The organisations and individuals who have signed this letter provide legal expertise, information, support, and advocacy to a broad range of communities, families, and individuals.”

They want the upcoming review to be:

  • A root and branch review that is comprehensive in scope and map unmet legal need;
  • Explore the functions of the Legal Aid Board, including the provision of information, advocacy, education and research;
  • Examine the eligibility criteria for legal aid, including the means test, and financial contributions, the areas of law covered — discrimination, domestic violence, housing, sexual harassment;
  • Examine the methods of service delivery, such as community law centres, targeted/specialised legal services for disadvantaged groups and individuals;
  • Be an independent review chaired by a person of status, such as a judge with an interest in access to justice.

The letter said it must incorporate “the voices of those who experience unmet legal need” and include external groups and NGOs.

The letter stated it should measure our system against international standards and compliance with the State’s obligations under national and international human rights law.

Last May, the department announced that the Housing Assistance Payment would not be included the means test for people seeking civil legal aid.

Under Budget 2021, the department secured an increased provision of more than €2m for the Legal Aid Board, bringing its total funding to €44.6m for the year, a 6 per cent increase.

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