Written Answers. - Legal Costs.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

24 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take to ensure that the cost of bringing an action to the District Court will not deter victims of discrimination from seeking redress. [17234/03]

John Gormley

Question:

47 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the District Court will hear cases of discrimination under the Equal Status Act 2000; and if the rules of the courts will be changed to allow victims to use community advocacy as a form of representation which they can currently avail of before the Equality Tribunal. [17235/03]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 47 together.

Let me first state that it is the right of the citizens under the Constitution to have access to the courts. The anti-discrimination provisions of the Equal Status Act and the Intoxicating Liquor Bill are both in the area of civil legislation and as such provide a means of resolving disputes between individuals by way of compensation rather than punishment.

On 17 June 2003, the Government approved publication of the new Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2003, which includes a provision to transfer jurisdiction for cases of alleged discrimination involving licensed premises – apart from accommodation related matters – from the Equality Tribunal to the District Court.

One step I have taken to ensure that complainants are not deterred in taking cases to the District Court is that under the Intoxicating Liquor Bill the Equality Authority will have its existing powers of representation under the Equal Status Act 2000 transferred to the Intoxicating Liquor Bill in relation to prohibited conduct, which includes discrimination, directed against any person in any licensed premises. The decision on whether to provide representation before the District Court will rest with the Equality Authority on the same basis as representation is currently provided before the Equality Tribunal. It is important to note that the complainant retains the same legal rights as they have under the Equal Status Act 2000.
It is open to any person to apply for legal aid in relation to civil proceedings in the District Court. A person must satisfy a means test as to financial eligibility and a merits test which will include, inter alia, a consideration of the prospects of success and the benefit to be derived by the applicant as against the cost of the proceedings. The tests are set out in detail in the Civil Legal Aid Act and regulations.
At this time I see no need to allow for the use of community advocacy before the District Court. At the launch of the Equality Authority Annual Report 2002, earlier this year, I welcomed the development by the authority in 2002 of a model for community advocacy. This model allows community-based groups to take on roles in supporting cases under the Equal Status Act 2000 before the Equality Tribunal. The Equality Tribunal allows for this type of advocacy on an administrative basis only. This role is similar to that played by trade unions under the Employment Equality Act 1998.