The chief executive of the Legal Aid Board (LAB) says it is time for a “rethink” about how it deals with certain issues in light of waiting lists for its services.
The LAB is celebrating 40 years and has provided legal assistance to more than 595,000 people — it now operates 33 law centres, 16 family mediation offices and its head office.
In recent years the issue of waiting lists for its services have come to the fore and its chief executive, John McDaid, said: “It’s no secret we have waiting lists.
“The challenge may be to rethink how we do it sometimes and see if there is some way of doing it so waiting lists are not necessarily part of the picture.”
Mr McDaid said that even now more than half of all clients receive an immediate or almost immediate response, with certain cases prioritised such as those involving domestic violence or the parents of children who are the subject of an order seeking to take them into care.
He said the “rethink” could include the implementation of recommendations from an Oireachtas Committee of Justice and Equality report published last year which suggests reforms in the area of legal aid and how cases are dealt with.
Mr McDaid said the Legal Aid Board is supportive of proposed reforms of the family law system and has welcomed the heads of the Family Courts Bill, which he said he hopes will be a priority for the next government.
That would likely lead to greater use of mediation in cases and keep more out of the district courts. He referred to one family law case which had 100 hearing days in the district court before the matter was finalised.
Those recommendations also include a review of how legal aid is granted in civil cases.
Mr McDaid said the current eligibility criteria are effectively unchanged since 2006, with some groups highlighting areas where they feel there is an unmet need, including cases that go before the Workplace Relations Commission and cases involving vulnerable people such as the elderly.
“I would be very happy if there was a broader discussion around that,” he said.
Mr McDaid also said that while some larger law firms are involved in a range of pro bono work, he is not sure if expanding that would help ease the pressures on the LAB, while he also admitted that some litigation may materialise involving environmental threats brought by climate change.
He said cases citing the Aarhus Convention and other international conventions are already before the courts.
“I do see an ongoing need to reflect on how people are supported and how people at risk of marginalisation and who are vulnerable are protected through the legal system, including the legal aid system,” he said.