Flac sees increase in employment and family law queries amid Covid-19 measures

Chief executive Eilis Barry highlights concerns over lack of legal aid in employment cases

The Covid-19 public health measures introduced last year were reflected in the type of help sought in 2020 from Flac. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Covid-19 public health measures introduced last year were reflected in the type of help sought in 2020 from Flac. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

The Covid-19 public health measures introduced last year were reflected in the type of help sought in 2020 from Flac, the free legal advice organisation, with increases in both employment and family law queries to the organisation.

During one week in May 2020, employment law queries exceeded family law queries for the first time in the organisation’s history.

Flac registered an increase of 38.6 per cent in employment law queries, making for 16 per cent of all queries to the organisation, during 2020, with many of those who sought help having trouble with overnight changes to their employment status.

There was an increase of 14.2 per cent in family law queries, making for 27.6 per cent of all queries raised, with tensions arising from spouses and partners having to spend more time together amid Covid-19 restrictions being among the factors driving the demand.

The main family law queries were in relation to separation and divorce (38.5 per cent of such queries), custody and guardianship (28 per cent), and maintenance (17.5 per cent).

The figures come from the Flac annual report for 2020, which is being launched remotely on Tuesday by Chief Justice Frank Clarke.

“In a year in which the onset of the pandemic brought with it challenges which none of us could have foreseen, never was the work of Flac so important,” the Chief Justice said, speaking ahead of the launch.

“Flac continued to provide legal information and legal advice to many in a time of heightened anxiety.”

Phone-based service

In line with Government advice, Flac closed its clinics on March 20th, 2020, and began to operate a phone-based service instead.

A total of 4,860 people received basic legal advice from approximately 550 volunteer lawyers at the free legal advice clinics that were conducted remotely during the public health restrictions.

Meanwhile, 210 community and voluntary groups received legal assistance from private practitioners acting pro bono by way of Flac’s public interest law project during 2020, while Flac also formally launched its Traveller Legal Service during the year.

“It is a matter of ongoing concern that there is no legal aid available in employment cases; as a result the almost 2,000 Flac service users with an employment law issue who got through to Flac’s phoneline were unable to access legal aid,” said Flac chief executive Eilis Barry.

The restrictive means test for and delays in obtaining legal aid also meant that many callers were unable to access timely legal aid for crucial family law issues, she said.

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