Personal Insolvency Bill 'on the way'

Mon, Jun 18, 2012, 01:00

The Personal Insolvency Bill, which at the moment runs to 200 pages, will be published by the end of the month, the Minister for Justice said today.

Alan Shatter was speaking at the publication of the Free Legal Advice Centre (Flac) annual report, which revealed an increase in the number of people seeking legal assistance from the legal rights organisation, particularly relating to personal debt.

Mr Shatter also said he hoped the Legal Services Regulation Bill would be enacted by the end of the year and acknowledged Flac's submission on it.

The Minister said Flac had made a significant input into the Personal Insolvency Bill, including a very detailed submission. He also said its conference - Legislating for Personal Insolvency in Ireland, last April - which had been attended by one of his officials dealing with the Bill, had provided very valuable insights.

He said he hoped the Bill, when enacted, would encourage financial institutions to engage with people in debt in a realistic manner, without having to have recourse to the measures that would be contained in the Bill.

He pointed out that last year 45 per cent of calls received on Flac's telephone information line and almost 60 per cent of callers to Flac centres concerned matters relating to family, debt and employment law. One-quarter of all calls received and one-third of all callers to Flac centres had queries relating to family law.

Noeline Blackwell, director general of Flac, said the organisation had seen the terrible problem of over-indebtedness since 2008, having dealt with 83,000 queries since then. This led to its focus on reforming laws around personal debt.

"We have kept it simple," she said. "We need an independent, out-of-court debt settlement structure that will examine people's personal debt in a holistic way and where possible aim to keep people in their homes.

She stressed the need for the Government to under stand the "justice gap" in Ireland to properly reform legal services in a way that would truly widen access to justice for all.

"We know the Minister understands the need to have more people access law, given his legal background and past involvement with Flac," she said. "But there are elements missing from the proposed Legal Services Regulatory Bill that could open up the law for more people, such as a better funded State legal aid system and a focus on making the courts more accessible."

According to the annual report, there were 12,923 telephone queries to Flac in 2011, an increase of 39 per cent on 2010, and 13,362 calls to its law centres, an increase of 21.7 per cent. The organisation had also taken cases clarifying consumer credit rights and social welfare entitlements.

The Minister was presented with a photograph of himself as a council member of Flac in 1972, along with Anne Colley, until recently the chairwoman of the Legal Aid Board, and the late David Moloney, later a Fine Gael TD, who died in 2002. Both he and Mr Shatter served as chairmen of Flac in the 1970s.