Thursday, 29 January 2004

Ceisteanna (73)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

67 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps being taken to reduce the waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor at the legal aid centres in view of the fact that the average waiting time is five months and that this can rise to 13 months at some centres; the additional funding which has been provided in the estimates for 2004 to reduce waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2499/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Deputy will appreciate that under section 5(1) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, it is the function of the Legal Aid Board to provide, from within its resources and subject to the other provisions of the Act, legal aid and advice in civil cases to persons who satisfy the requirements of the Act and the regulations made thereunder. In addition, under section 30 of the Act, responsibility for determining how legal services should be provided, including the location of law centres, the staffing required by these centres and the use of private practitioners, is a matter for the board.

I would also mention to the Deputy that, regarding those applicants waiting for legal services, the board operates a procedure whereby priority is accorded for certain categories of cases over other cases, for example, domestic violence, child care, child abduction and cases where there are time limits. In these cases the application is dealt with immediately and such applicants are not placed on a waiting list. I understand that during 2002 such priority cases accounted for over 20% of the total caseload handled by the board.

I can also inform the Deputy that the allocation for the Legal Aid Board in 2004 is €18.388 million. This represents an increase of almost 5% over the 2003 provision of €17.539 million. I can further inform the Deputy that in recent years the level of funding provided to the board has increased significantly. During the period from 1997 to date, the grant-in-aid has increased by 74%, from €10.563 million in 1997 to €18.388 million in 2004. In addition, sanction for the board to employ additional full-time solicitors was also received during this period. These increased resources have enabled the board to provide legal services to a greater number of people.