Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (318)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

318. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the way in which funds for the free legal aid service are distributed nationally by law centre in each of the past four years; the criteria in place to determine the distribution of funding; the precise weighting given to each criteria; the plan in place to target resources at areas with the longest waiting times or other measures of need; and the waiting times and numbers for first and second consultations by each law centre. [44644/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Legal Aid Board is the statutory independent body responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to persons of modest means in the State. The Board also has responsibility to provide a family mediation service.

I have had enquiries made with the Legal Aid Board on behalf of the Deputy and they have provided the following information.

Civil legal aid and advice is provided primarily by solicitors employed by the Board through a network of law centres . There are 30 full time and 12 part-time law centres. Specific law centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway include an international protection speciality and there are also dedicated units in Dublin dealing with personal injury and/or medical negligence cases and cases involving children at risk. Family mediation services are provided through 8 full time offices and 9 part time offices.

The Board also engages private solicitors to supplement the services provided by Board solicitors in certain areas of law on a case by case basis, those areas of law being; District Court family law matters, Circuit Court judicial separation and divorce cases, international protection cases, and cases on foot of the Abhaile scheme.

I am advised that the Board does not have to hand a breakdown of the total cost of civil legal aid in any one office/county in a given year. It should be borne in mind that applicants are free to apply for legal services to any law centre and are not bound to apply in their county of residence. Furthermore, in a case where two parties to a dispute seek the services of the Board at one law centre, one party will be required to engage with a different law centre, which may be in a neighbouring county.

The majority of the Board's income consists of a grant received from my Department. This funding is used to provide the Board's services in all its offices across the country, as well as the support services provided to law centres centrally from the Board's head office. The Board’s other main sources of income are financial contributions from applicants and costs recovered.

The grant funding provided to the Legal Aid Board by my Department in 2019 is €40.796 million. The largest cost of operating the law centre network is staff salaries. Solicitors employed by the Legal Aid Board are civil servants of the State and are subject to the standard civil service terms and conditions of employment and are employed on standard civil service pay scales. The allocation of staffing resources in the Legal Aid Board is a matter for the Chief Executive and senior management, within its budgetary parameters.

The Board seeks to ensure that a person who qualifies for civil legal aid (legal services) will be offered an appointment with a solicitor within a maximum period of four months from the time the application is completed or will be offered earlier legal advice if it is not possible to provide full legal services within four months. A priority service is provided in certain cases including cases involving domestic violence, child abduction, applications by the State (Tusla) to take children into care or under supervision, and cases that have statutory time limits close to expiry.

The waiting times and numbers for first and second consultation appointments are published on a regular basis on the website of the Legal Aid Board (www.legalaidboard.ie).

As of the 31st December 2016, there were 1,864 persons waiting for legal services which was a reduction from the figure of 2,319 at the start of the year. At the end of 2017 the number of persons waiting for legal services stood at 1,776. At the end of 2018 the number of persons waiting for legal services stood at 1,754 (see Table 1). This was the sixth successive year in which there was a decrease (from over 5,000 in 2013). The number of persons waiting for a first consultation with a Legal Aid Board solicitor stands at 1,933 at the end of October, 2019.

Table 1 - The number of persons waiting on the 31st December 2018

Year

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Number Waiting

5,067

3,412

2,319

1,864

1,776

1,754

The maximum waiting time in weeks, for non prioritised matters, as of the 30th September, 2019 is set out for the various law centres in Table 2. It must be emphasised that this table gives a snapshot of waiting times at a particular point in time. Waiting times will go up and down depending on demand and on the capacity of each law centre to offer appointments to new clients. A number of law centres that currently have long waiting lists are being affected by solicitor turnover and other staff movement or absence which the Board is seeking to address. Where capacity permits, applications in Dublin are transferred between law centres to allow earlier first consultation appointments for applicants. The distribution of resources is similarly kept under constant review. I am advised for example that with some redistribution it is expected that the waiting time at the Law Centre in Finglas will drop significantly in the next couple of months.

Table 2: Waiting times - 30 th September 2019 (in weeks)

Waiting for 1st Consultation

Waiting for 2nd Consultation

Combined waiting time

Law Centre

Longest person waiting

No. Waiting

Longest person waiting

No. Waiting

Combined waiting time

No. Waiting

Finglas

56

104

0

0

56

104

Jervis Street*

41

181

0

0

41

181

Smithfield

31

109

0

0

31

109

Cork South Mall

28

153

0

0

28

153

Kilkenny*

28

75

0

0

28

75

Athlone

26

94

0

0

26

94

Blanchardstown

26

57

0

0

26

57

Sligo

26

62

0

0

26

62

Navan

25

81

0

0

25

81

Galway Seville House*

11

28

12

12

23

40

Ennis

7

21

15

24

22

45

Longford

19

54

0

0

19

54

Tallaght

19

57

0

0

19

57

Waterford

19

60

0

0

19

60

Nenagh

18

85

0

0

18

85

Newbridge

18

40

0

0

18

40

Cavan

15

42

0

0

15

42

Wexford

15

53

0

0

15

53

Tralee

14

41

0

0

14

41

Monaghan

13

31

0

0

13

31

Cork Popes Quay

12

80

0

0

12

80

Castlebar

11

42

0

0

11

42

Letterkenny*

11

53

0

0

11

53

Dundalk

10

33

0

0

10

33

Portlaoise*

10

35

0

0

10

35

Wicklow

10

58

0

0

10

58

Limerick

9

30

0

0

9

30

Galway Francis St

8

12

0

0

8

12

Clondalkin

5

31

0

0

5

31

Tullamore

4

26

0

0

4

26

* Co-located law centre and mediation offices

Speedy access to the Board’s services and to the justice system generally, has always been a priority for the Board.

It is important to clarify that in most cases the legal advice and/or aid provided by the Legal Aid Board is not free nor is the word ‘Free’ part of the Board’s title. There are financial eligibility criteria which the majority of civil legal aid applicants must meet in order to be eligible for legal services. In most cases an applicant for legal aid will have to make a payment which is called a contribution. While the majority of persons granted civil legal services pay the minimum contribution, the contribution a person is liable for will depend on their disposable income and capital assets. In the event that a person recovers money or property arising from the case, the Board may seek to recover the cost to the Board of providing legal services to the client.