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Plans for reducing the cost of legal actions and regularisation scheme for undocumented persons announced

The Justice Plan 2021 has over 200 actions which the minister said should be implemented in the next 12 months.

Minister Helen McEntee
Minister Helen McEntee
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

REDUCING THE HIGH cost of taking legal actions, publishing a new sexual offences bill and a scheme to regularise undocumented persons form a new set of priorities to be published today by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. 

The Justice Plan 2021 has over 200 actions which the minister said should be implemented in the next 12 months. 

The plan comes alongside new planned legislation that will allow longer opening hours for nightclubs and changes to alcohol licensing. 

Other elements of the plan also include extending the range of spent convictions and removing barriers to becoming a barrister or solicitor. 

As part of the reforms around the cost of legal actions, new scales of legal costs will be independently drawn up with the goal of detailing what people can expect to pay when they take court action. 

The requirement for these guidelines will be set down in legislation with work to get underway this year to identify appropriate ways to establish scales of costs. 

These reforms will come after recommendations from a review group into the administration of civil justice chaired by then-President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly. 

Minister McEntee said: “I am giving a clear commitment to introduce new guidelines to help improve the information the public will have about the costs of taking legal actions.  Not knowing how much legal proceedings could ultimately cost currently acts as a barrier to accessing justice and is damaging to our economy and competitiveness.”

Speaking to RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, the minister added that the published guidelines should show members of the public what their costs will look like prior to taking legal action. 

“For example, if you look at other countries like Germany, if somebody takes legal action they could probably tell you down to the very day of when that will finish how much it’s going to cost,” she said. “That’s not the case here and I want to make it clearer for people.”

Licensing laws

The Justice Minister also expanded on plans to “modernise out licensing laws” on Morning Ireland. 

However, the plans to revise opening hours for venues comes at a time when they’re all closed indefinitely. At the weekend, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that hospitality will not re-open until mid-summer. 

“I know it’s very difficult for people people to maybe imagine when that might happen or what it might look like when we’re still in Level Five,” McEntee said. “I want people in this industry [...] to know that we are thinking beyond Covid, that we are planning ahead. 

“It’s really about thinking for the future and how can we support this industry more. The legislation itself is a large piece of legislation. It’s going to take a bit of time.”

Speaking to the same programme, Licenced Vintners Association chief executive Donall O’Keeffe said he would welcome the move to extend opening hours. 

The situation has been “appalling bad” for wet pubs for the past year, he said, but that has been even worse for late bars and nightclubs.

O’Keeffe also called for increased supports for businesses that have had to remain closed. 

Other measures

Also in the justice plan are proposals for a regularisation scheme for thousands of undocumented migrants. 

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This is expected to launch in the autumn. 

Applications for the scheme will be accepted by the end of the year.

“We are all familiar with the plight of the undocumented Irish who have built their lives in the United States but have not regularised their status, even though they are an integral part of their communities,” Minister McEntee said. 

“We must acknowledge there are thousands of people here in Ireland in a similar position: who have started families here, work here and contribute so much to our society but who want to regularise their position with Irish authorities.

“The scheme will be open to applicants by the end of the year and could benefit an estimated 17,000 people, including 3,000 young people or children.”

Other proposals aimed at reforming professional legal education and removing barriers to become a solicitor or barrister are included in the plan. 

The minister has commissioned the Legal Services Regulatory Authority to examine issues such as the remuneration of trainee barristers and solicitors along with other costs associated with joining each profession. 

A Sexual Offences Bill will add harassment orders to existing legislation, bring consistency regarding anonymity around a range of sexual offences, and legislate for an ‘reasonable belief of consent’ defence. This is due to be published by the end of the year.

Another element of the plan will look at extending the range of spent convictions, increasing the sentence length limit and incorporating a youth justice perspective. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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