2,200 people forced to wait for free legal aid

Resource type: News

Irish Examiner |

FLAC is an Atlantic grantee.

Figures from the Legal Aid Board released to the Irish Examiner show, in some parts of the country, people are waiting for six months or more.

While numbers and waiting lists varied from centre to centre, black spots included Galway, Cork, Tipperary and Wexford.

In Galway, where there are five solicitors working and 150 people seeking a first appointment, the waiting time is seven months.

In Cork, where there are 12 solicitors working, more than 300 people are waiting five or six months.

A spokesperson for the board said demand for services had increased by 26% in the first five months of this year compared with the same time last year. She said 21% of cases got priority treatment due to the nature of their cases, but for those who did not receive priority appointments, the waiting times were on average three to four months.

Head of Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) Noeline Blackwell said pressure on free legal aid solicitors was unsustainable as more and more people seek help.

“It is a real worry if people are having four or five months for representation,” she said. “If you are in trouble that is too long to wait.”

Ms Blackwell warned that ‘clueless’ people were entering a hugely complex legal system they could not possibly hope to navigate themselves.

“The system is awful. People who are in severe debt are entering a system entirely unsuitable for them without legal advice,” she said.

“The numbers who are eligible are increasing rapidly and there is a real gap between need and supply.

“There are a whole cohort of people who are at risk of being made homeless and they have no one to represent them in court.”

Ms Blackwell said free legal aid solicitors are among the most dedicated and hard working in the country.

“They are public servants dealing with a massive amount of work. More resources are needed.

“You have to be very poor to quality for free legal aid and, unfortunately, this requirement really isn’t a problem anymore.”

Ms Blackwell said the Master’s Court previously a one-stop shop to make sure papers are in order was now becoming a human story.

“People are turning up utterly bewildered as to what they should be doing and how they can deal with a High Court case against them,” she said. “The Master has about 200 cases a day to deal with. Normally he would simply ask ‘are your papers in order’, but now his time is increasingly taken up because people do not have representation and their papers are not in order.”

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FLAC, Free Legal Advice Centres, free legal aid