The Deputy will appreciate that under section 5 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, the principal function of the board is to provide, within the board's resources and subject to the other provisions of the Act, legal aid and advice to persons who satisfy the requirements of the Act. In addition, under section 30 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, the Legal Aid Board has responsibility for deciding how legal services should be provided, including the location of law centres, the appropriate staffing for those centres and the use of private practitioners.
The Deputy will be aware that the grant-in-aid to the Legal Aid Board for this year is €17.075 million. While this figure represents a slight decrease of just over 3% on the grant-in-aid for last year, it still represents a significant increase in funding for the board in recent years, up from €10.656 million in 1997 to €17.075 million in 2003, an increase of almost 62%. During this period also, sanction to employ additional staff was conveyed to the board. Since 1997, sanctioned posts in the board's law centre network increased from 191 to 215, of which 89 are solicitor posts, including eight additional posts. These combined additional resources contributed to a significant improvement in waiting times throughout the board's law centre network during this period.
I can inform the Deputy that during 2001, which is the most recent complete year for which figures are available, the board provided legal services to a total of 14,200 persons. At the end of May 2003, average waiting time for a first appointment with a solicitor across the board's 30 law centres was five months. This ranges from a lowest waiting time of two weeks at one law centre up to 13 months at the law centre with the highest waiting time. However, I can inform the Deputy that 17 of the board's law centres have waiting times of less than four months, with only the one law centre already mentioned having a waiting time in excess of one year. I would point out that these figures do not include priority cases, which account for over one fifth of all cases dealt with by the board and where an immediate legal service is provided without the persons concerned having to go on a waiting list.