Legal aid and access to justice
Sir, – Concerns have been raised about the lapse of more than 300 Bills as a consequence of the Dáil’s dissolution. Those of us who work in the legal aid and community law sector were also disappointed to learn that an inquiry by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality into access to justice, which commenced late last year, will also now lapse.
The inquiry was long overdue, given that the Civil Legal Aid Scheme is now 40 years old and is both chronically under-resourced, with an average waiting time in Dublin of 38 weeks, and overly limited in its scope. It is not possible to obtain legal aid in a wide variety of areas, including employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission or appeals before the Social Welfare Appeals Tribunal. It is further limited by the means test to qualify for legal aid which does not reflect the cost of living today, leaving many people who cannot afford a solicitor without access to justice.
This makes challenging incorrect decisions or unfair practices by an arm of the State or other body more difficult, more distressing or just impossible particularly for vulnerable groups or at vulnerable times.
Access to justice is vital for social inclusion and has an important role to play in preventing homelessness, assisting with accessing social welfare, education and other services, preventing job loss and challenging discrimination.
It is critical that this issue is revisited by the next government. – Yours, etc,
Northside Civic Centre,
Coolock, Dublin 17.