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Domestic violence, financial demands and pressure: Barrister on giving free legal advice

“I often leave feeling very sorry for someone, but litigation isn’t nice.”
Dec 26th 2017, 12:01 PM 9,887 13

WHEN IGNORANCE OF the law is no defence, then surely everyone is entitled to understand the basics of it.

That’s the ethos of Flac (Free Legal Advice Centres) and something volunteer Ben Clarke says he fully agrees with.

Clarke, who works as a barrister, has volunteered with Flac since 2013 and takes appointments in Tallaght every month.

He told TheJournal.ie, “Everyone is entitled to basic information about the law that governs our lives.

“We should all have the opportunity – whether we take that opportunity is another thing.

Most of us at some point will be faced with an issue in which it is necessary to understand the extent of our rights or obligations, to expect people to navigate those challenges without access to the most basic information is like asking them to do so blindfolded with one arm tied behind their back.

Describing the sessions in Tallaght, Clarke said there is usually about three barristers in seperate rooms and callers who book appointment are sent in in turn.

“Sessions usually last around 15-20 minutes with each person. I’d see between three and six people in an evening over the space of two hours.”

“Clearly there is a limit to what you can do in a 15 or 20 minute consultation, but Flac is an opportunity to at least point people, in a very general sense, in the right direction.”

Asked what types of issues come up again and again, Clarke said:

“In my experience – you never know what issue is going to come in the door next but I’d be very surprised on any occasion if there wasn’t one family law query. Separations and all the things that go with it like maintenance orders not being paid.

“Also domestic violence issues, if not physical, emotional abuse – where people are controlled and manipulated in their own homes.

There’s also a lot of bank related stuff, credit related queries, people receiving demands and things getting hairy, people can be under gross pressure.

He said, “It goes from the very routine to something extremely sensitive.

I went a while before there was a sensitive case – some of the bank cases were very unpleasant. I often leave feeling very sorry for someone, but litigation isn’t nice.

“You’d never get anything done if you took it all on.”

He added, “Every time we have consultations we can flag cases for Flac to look at and you can add notes. I’ve flagged things that were very sensitive.”

Asked what motivates him to keep going, Clarke said, “It’s just something you do, it’s not a chore.

You’re just doing what you do on a day-to-day basis, you apply the same standards to that as you would in your work. It’s important to treat it like that because you’re there because you have some degree of knowledge.

“I don’t think it’s a lot to ask and it’s good to feel you can help someone.”

Read: Pensioner says she fears she’ll be homeless at Christmas after social welfare payments suspended>

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Cliodhna Russell

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