More people needing legal aid


The economic downturn has led to a greater number of people requiring legal aid, the Legal Aid Board has said.

The board provides civil legal aid and advice to those who cannot afford a solicitor.

Since the end of 2006,demand for the board's law centre network for general civil matters, increased by 93 per cent. The board said the sustained increase in demand is driven by two factors. The recession has meant a greater number of people satisfy the means test to avail of services. Secondly, there is greater need in the economic downturn for certain legal services such as family law, debt and unemployment.

According to its 2011 annual report published today, the board received 18,657 applications for civil legal aid and advice in 2011, up 9 per cent since 2010. This followed a 21 per cent increase in 2010 and 18 per cent in 2009.

In total, the board's law centres processed 17,825 cases in 2011, up 7 per cent on 2009, while 4,862 cases were referred out to private practitioners. Referrals to private practitioners were lower in 2011 due to budget cuts. The number of cases processed in 2011 by the law centre network increased by 7 per cent to over 17,800. The number of child care cases increased by 12 per cent.The only area that did not see an increase in applications was the Refugee Legal Service which provides legal services to asylum seekers due to the decrease in the number if asylum applications to the State.

The board's remit was expanded in 2011, taking responsibility for the Family Mediation service (FMS) from the Family Support Agency, to provide mediation services at 16 locations. It also took responsibility for the Garda Station Advice ad hoc scheme from the Department of Justice and Equality.