‘Rights meaningless without access to legal system’- Chief Justice

Susan Denham launches Flac report showing 10% increase in people contacting helpline

Rights are meaningless without access to the legal system, the Chief Justice has said.

Speaking at the launch of the Free Legal Advice Centre's (Flac) annual report, Mrs Justice Susan Denham highlighted the need for access to legal services.

“My wish is that justice is done for the people of Ireland in terms of their access to the legal system,” she said.

Flac’s report found a 10 per cent increase in people contacting it in 2013 compared to 2012.


More than 27,000 people were assisted with legal queries by the organisation, which operates a help line and 81 centres throughout the country and has more than 700 volunteer lawyers working for it.

The report highlighted concerns with delays in access to free civil legal through the Legal Aid Board. It called for changes to the legal system which would make it fairer and allow people better access to their rights.

Mrs Justice Denham, who was a volunteer with the organisation in the 1970s, said access to justice is a fundamental principle in a democratic society and must include “ease of access to the law and to the courts”.

She noted that director general of Flac Noeline Blackwell had "pointed out the challenges which people face in access in civil legal aid".

She also said it was obvious “the Great Recession” had created an increasing workload for Flac. And she said family life remained a priority for those contacting the organisation. She said the resolution of family difficulties was vital.

“These are the most important cases, if they are not dealt with in a timely fashion, in a professional manner, then there can be a profound impact lasting down through the generations of the family,” she said.

Mrs Justice Denham said Flac was playing an important role in making rights a reality for thousands of people.

Speaking following the launch, Ms Blackwell said one of the key changes in 2013 was the big increase in housing queries, from both landlords and tenants.

“It is an area of some concern to us that whether you are a landlord or whether you are a tenant the legal system is slow and oppressive and hard to deal with, and in situations where somebody can end up homeless or without an income, the fact that you can go to court and get a remedy in two or three years at some considerable expense is no real remedy at all,” she said.

She said the organisation had issued a new leaflet on landlord and tenant law, along with reissuing leaflets on other topics, to address those with queries in the area.

Ms Blackwell said city people had been contacting Flac regarding legal rights from areas where there was most pressure on housing.

“We need to streamline and fix a number of the systems that are broken and that haven’t worked; the pressure is showing up now that it is a more urgent need than before,” she said.

There was an 83 per cent increase in queries to Flac related to housing, including landlord and tenant issues, via the phone line and among those going to the centres, it rose by almost 13 per cent.

Calls about disputes with neighbours dramatically increased, rising by 56 per cent on 2012 and queries about legal services, including how to apply for legal aid, increased by almost 48 per cent.

Family law remained the most common query, making up more than 20 per cent of calls and 34 per cent of queries at advice centres.

There were more than 110 complaints about the State civil legal aid service, the Legal Aid Board, and more than 470 calls from people confused about the board.

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland

Fiona Gartland is a crime writer and former Irish Times journalist