flac News | Vol. 21, No. 4
F L A C N E W S l O C T O B E R - D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 122
iinn tthhiiss eeddiittiioonn......Making access to justice a reality 1, 8-9
FLAC issues guide to civil legal aid in Ireland 2
Free Ales Bialiastski 2
Editorial:On reforming legal services 3
Joining forces to tackle personal debt:A question of 9 principles 4
Action urgently needed in face of rising mortgage arrears 5
A positive equality duty for theIrish public service? 6
Consultation on ESC rights before UN treaty examination 7
Trocaire group visit 7
Court refuses access to appealdecision in 'Jama' case 10
European law seminar looks at access to social security 10
Continued rise in demand forFLAC services 11
Transgender legislation soon? 11
Success for FLAC clients 11
PILA Updates: 12-13
Focus on FLAC:Iseult OMalley SC 14
Inside the centre: FLAC Dundalk 15
FLAC updates 16
FLAC NEWS is published quarterly byFree Legal Advice Centres Ltd.,13 Lower Dorset Street, Dublin 1.
Editors: Aine Walsh & Yvonne Woods
Layout and Printing: Printwell Co-operative, Dublin 1
Contributors: Noeline Blackwell,Saoirse Brady, Emer Butler, John Deignan,Michael Farrell, Connie Gerety, JulietteHopkins, Orla Hubbard, Gillian Kernan,Paul Joyce, Sinead Madden, Sinead Mahon,Karen McLaughlin, Lianne Murphy, AineWalsh, Kim Watts & Yvonne Woods.
ISSN 07914148The views of individual contributors donot necessarily represent the views ofFLAC.
FFLLAACC iissssuueess GGuuiiddee ttoo CCiivviill LLeeggaall AAiidd iinn IIrreellaanndd
In November, FLAC produced aguide explaining the system of civillegal aid in Ireland and highlightingthe difference between FLAC and theLegal Aid Board and between thedifferent types of assistance available tothose needing help on a legal matter.
In Ireland, legal aid in civil cases is fundedby the State and provided through theLegal Aid Board. Over the past numberof years there has been a considerableincrease in demand for the Legal AidBoard's services. However, this hascoincided with a decrease in availablefunding which has resulted in significantdelays for people seeking legal aid andadvice from the State-funded system.
People are therefore turning to FLAC ineven greater numbers for once-off legalinformation and advice; however, as anon-governmental voluntary body, FLACcannot offer legal representation toclients. By 1 November this year therewere 4800 people awaiting their first
appointment with a Legal Aid Boardsolicitor and in some Law Centres thereis a waiting time of up to 11 months fortheir first appointment.Sadly, therefore, there is a clear gapbetween the public's actual need for helpin civil legal matters and the ability of theLegal Aid Board to provide that help.Thisis where FLAC, as an independent legalrights body, aims to supplement but notreplace the state system while raisingawareness of this glaring deficiency andcampaigning to improve the State'sprovision.
The new FLACsheet on Civil Legal Aidprovides an overview of the civil legal aidsystem, including eligibility, application,costs, termination, appeals process,complaints and cross-border civil legalaid.
FLAC staff and interns call for justice in support of Ales Bialiatski, a human rights activist inBelarus who was arrested in August 2011 and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for 'tax
evasion' on 24 November. Ales is chairperson of the Belarusian human rights centre Viasna.Many see the trial as an attempt by Belarusian authorities to end Ales' activism and
discourage other human rights defenders. More info at bit.ly/FLACales
FFrreeee AAlleess BBiiaalliiaattsskkii CCaammppaaiiggnn
Download the FLACsheet at:http://www.flac.ie/publications
flac News | Vol. 21, No. 4
F L A C N E W S l O C T O B E R - D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 1 33
OOnn rreeffoorrmmiinngg lleeggaall sseerrvviicceessEE DD II TT OO RR II AA LL ::
The Legal Services Bill 2011 is oneof the most extensive and radicalproposals for change in howlawyers deliver their services in a longtime.As access to legal services is crucialto access to justice, the Bill deservesexamination from the perspective of thatfundamental human right.
The Bills main proposal is for a newregulatory authority and disciplinarytribunal. The regulatory authority is todeal with the admission and regulation ofpractitioners and handling complaintsagainst lawyers.The Disciplinary Tribunalwill sanction misconduct. It is clear fromFLAC's contacts with the public thatmany people are unhappy with thecurrent system for complaint about thelegal service that they receive.They see itas unfair and biased towards lawyers.Whatever protest the Law Society or BarCouncil might properly make that thesystem is fair and that clients get athorough investigation of their complaint,the problem is that the system is devisedby and rooted in the professional bodiesand therefore has great difficulty jumpingthe hurdle that not only must justice bedone, but that it be seen to be done.
The proposed authority, principallycomprised of lay persons appointed bythe government is undoubtedly intendedto reform that unease. However, ascurrently structured, it may only haveshifted the risk from a perceived biastowards the legal professions to a newbias to the will of the government of theday. A government appointed andremoved authority where the Ministerfor Justice of the day has a high level ofdirective power all raise seriousquestions about its independence.Hopefully, the debate on the Bill as itpasses through the Oireachtas will see arevised and manifestly independentmodern structure emerge which isclearly compliant with the democraticseparation of powers as well as principlesof international human rights basicprinciples relating to the independence oflawyers.
THE EU/IMF requirement to tackle legalcosts was a clear impetus for this Bill.Despite improvements in recent years,callers to FLAC consistently complainabout legal fees. This Bill will impose
increased obligations for lawyers to beclear about their fees so that shock andconfusion should be greatly reduced.While this alone will not reduce costs, itshould allow people to be betterinformed in dealings with their lawyers.However, the proposals for adjudicatingon legal accounts disputes remainscomplex and indeed may be even morecomplicated than the existing one.
The Bill also has the capacity to increasecosts rather than reduce them. Itproposes the removal of restrictions onpartnerships between barristers, be-tween barristers and solicitors andbetween multiple disciplines.That may bein the interest of lawyers, but may not bein the interest of consumers. Currently, asolicitor will form an ad-hoc partnershipwith a barrister for the duration of acase. Thereafter they have no duty toeach other. This facilitates clients andmakes a greater pool of barristersavailable to solicitors. It is foreseeablethat under the proposed system,particularly if specialist barristers mergeinto large commercial firms, those whomight need occasional specialist advicewould find they could only avail of itthrough a more expensive system ifindeed they can get access to the
barrister at all; entirely contrary to thespirit of the Bill.
The Bill is focussed on commercial lawpractice rather than on access to justiceand as it currently stands does notaddress a number of barriers particularlyidentified by the Public Interest LawAlliance as barriers to public interestlitigation. In spite of the fact that thosewho need the courts to vindicate rightswill almost always be able to engage alawyer to act on their behalf, publicinterest litigation remains extremelystressful and risky for those who bringsuch cases. This Bill, seeking to reformlegal services, is a vehicle for theOireachtas to ensure that such peopleare better protected through clarifica-tion at the outset that public interestlitigants will not face a massive costsorder against them if they lose. It mayalso provide for the capacity to bring acase through a multi-party action orthrough a representative body.
Overall therefore, while the need forreform of legal costs and legal services isclear and the current Bill has capacity toadvance access to justice, it will needsignificant adjustment in the course of itspassage