The Irish Times view on free legal aid: a vital public service

State should ensure that legal aid is available for families facing repossession of their family homes

Flac’s annual report shows thta during 2017 a total of 13,814 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 66 locations across the country. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Flac’s annual report shows thta during 2017 a total of 13,814 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 66 locations across the country. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Flac, the organisation that runs the State’s network of free legal aid centres, has been doing a valuable public service for Irish society for almost half a century. A total of 25,817 people received legal advice from its volunteer lawyers last year.

According to the organisation’s annual report, during 2017 a total of 13,814 individuals received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at clinics run in conjunction with the Citizens Information Service at 66 locations across the State.

Demand was highest for family law, which accounted for almost 35 per cent of those attending the clinics. Employment issues were next on the list with almost 16 per cent of cases while wills and probate came next on 9 per cent. The 12,003 phone queries broadly followed the same pattern, with family law again well ahead of other issues, accounting for 26 per cent of queries, employment on 10 per cent and housing at 7 per cent.

When it comes to legal cases taken on by Flac in the public interest, housing – particularly landlord and tenant issues – emerged as the most important with 103 case files. It was followed by social welfare and discrimination issues. Eilis Barry, the chief executive of Flac, said there was a significant unmet legal need in relation to housing and homelessness. She highlighted the need to provide a clear basis in law for refusing to make an order for possession in the case of mortgage default involving the family home.

She said there was also a need to implement the commitment in the programme for government to establish a dedicated court or tribunal to deal with problem mortgage arrears on a case-by-case basis with a view to proposing resolutions and to ensure that legal aid was available to people facing family home repossessions by financial institutions or local authorities.

Flac has come up with a draft amendment to the Civil Legal Aid Act which it is asking Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to implement to ensure that legal aid is available for families facing repossession of their family homes. It deserves serious consideration.

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