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Minister for Justice to launch review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme this month

An eleven-person Review Group will be chaired by retired Chief Justice, Frank Clarke.

THE MINISTER FOR Justice, Helen McEntee, has updated Government on her plans to commence a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme this month.

The Review Group is expected to commence its work in the coming weeks for a period of 12 months and will launch a public consultation on the matter.

The Civil Legal Aid and Advice Scheme was first introduced by Government in 1979 and provides legal representation to people who are designated eligible following a means test.

While the majority of people granted civil legal services pay the minimum contribution of €30 for legal advice and €130 for full legal representation, fees are waived in domestic violence and public childcare cases.

Speaking today to announce the review, the minister said: “Since the Civil Legal Aid Scheme was first established over 40 years ago, Irish society has changed and the demands on the Scheme have grown.”

“To provide maximum benefit to the people it was established to serve, within the finite resources available to fund legal aid, I believe that a robust, comprehensive review of the Scheme as committed to in Justice Plan 2022 is an important step.”

The Review Group will be chaired by retired Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, and ten other members have been selected.

Members have been drawn from universities, the Department of Justice, the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society, the Department of Public Expenditure, the Irish Traveller Movement and a former director of the ESRI.

They will make periodic reports to Minister McEntee on the progress of their work, before submitting a final report next summer.

McEntee added: “Capturing the views of those who have unmet legal needs will be an important part of the Group’s consultation and engagement. One of the areas which will be considered in the review is eligibility for civil legal aid.”

The threshold for Civil Legal Aid is currently €18,000 net of certain allowances, including providing for a spouse/partner, each dependent, child care costs, PRSI, income tax and pension deductions.

A Legal Aid Board also determines whether the applicant would go to court if they were paying for it with their own money, the likelihood of their case succeeding and whether the benefit to the applicant for aid is worth the cost to the taxpayer.

The announcement was welcomed by Free Legal Aid Centres (FLAC), a human rights organisation advocating for equality in the justice system.

FLAC chief executive, Eilis Barry, said: “We are delighted that Minister McEntee has established this Civil Legal Aid Review Group. FLAC looks forward to being part of this essential group. This is a very significant moment in the history of access to justice in Ireland.”

“This review is a golden opportunity to demonstrate the value of  and invest in access to justice. We need to devise methods to measure and address unmet legal need. Access to justice needs to be viewed as and treated as an essential service, not and add on when resources allow,” she added.

In 2020 there were 18,522 applications for the Legal Aid Board’s services of which 13,209 were for Civil Legal Aid and 1,174 for International Protection.

This was a significant decrease from the previous five years, likely as a result of the pandemic.

The majority of cases were in relation to divorce, seperation or childcare issues.

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