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'Significant' rise in numbers referred to free legal scheme

The Bar Council’s Voluntary Assistance Scheme is seeing more people with debt issues who cannot afford legal representation.

Image: Graham Hughes/Photocall Ireland

THERE HAS BEEN a large increase in the numbers of people using a scheme providing free legal advice and representation, according to the programme’s co-ordinator.

Barrister Aoife Carroll said the Voluntary Assistance Scheme has experienced a “significant rise” in NGOs using its services to help people who are unable to afford legal representation.

She said the economic downturn means many do not have the resources to pay for private solicitors, and the State legal aid scheme is so overstretched that waiting lists can run to several months.

The Voluntary Assistance Scheme is a brokerage service which refers NGOs and their clients to lawyers who have relevant experience in their areas. The lawyers then offer their advice and sometimes representation on a pro bono basis.

“There has been a significant rise in the numbers of NGOs using the scheme, and the number of cases they’re referring to us,” Carroll said. “With the economic downturn people don’t have the funds to go to private solicitors. In some places the legal aid waiting lists are up to eight or nine months and people cannot wait that long for assistance, even when they may qualify.”

She said the scheme has seen a particular increase in cases relating to mortgage or debt issues. The Voluntary Assistance scheme is one of a number of different projects offering free legal advice.

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Michael Freeman

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