Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (170)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

167 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the long delays for persons seeking family law and other assistance through legal aid; his views on whether this causes hardship and exacerbates pre-existing legal problems; the proposals he has to remedy the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27648/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Legal Aid Board continuously monitors the operation of its law centre network and where waiting times at a law centre, for whatever reason, become excessive, the position is examined by the board with a view to taking remedial action.

The board operates a procedure whereby priority is accorded for certain categories of cases, for example, domestic violence, child care, child abduction and other cases where there are time limits. These cases are dealt with immediately and such applicants are not placed on a waiting list. Such a system for priority treatment is necessary to ensure that persons subjected to domestic violence and cases involving the care of children are provided with a speedy service. It is important to note that in 2003, priority appointments offered by law centres were approximately 1500, or almost 22% of the total number of appointments offered to new clients during the year.

In addition, managing solicitors at law centres have authority to give priority to any case on the waiting list at their centre. If, for example, an applicant is gravely ill or in cases where an applicant is in danger of losing assets or of losing title to a legal remedy if services are delayed, the managing solicitor can accord such cases priority status.

The level of resources provided to the Legal Aid Board has increased significantly in recent years. In 1997, the grant-in-aid available to the board was €10.656 million. The figure of €18.388 million for 2004 represents an increase of almost 73% over that allocation. I envisage the funding for the board being further increased in 2005.