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, in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017.
Section 3(3) of the Act provides that the Board shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions.
However, to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made with the Legal Aid Board, and I am informed that, Civil legal aid and advice is provided primarily through a network of law centres by solicitors employed by the Board. There are 30 full time and 12 part-time law centres. There is a dedicated unit in Dublin dealing with personal injury and/or medical negligence cases.
Personal injury is but one area of litigation supported through the Board. Applicants for legal aid must meet the financial eligibility criteria under section 29 of the Act and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017. This provides that their disposable income (less certain allowances) must be below €18,000 and their disposable capital (less certain allowances and excluding the value of the home in which they live) must be below €100,000. The application must meet the merits criteria in sections 24 and 28(2) of the 1995 Act.
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, including the dedicated unit dealing with personal injury and/or medical negligence cases, 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 Board informs me that it does not consider that there is a specific shortfall in funding for the provision of civil legal aid in personal injury and/or medical negligence cases.
In Budget 2021, I provided an increased provision of over €2 million for the Legal Aid Board in 2021 bringing total funding of the Legal Aid Board to €44.6 million, a 6% increase. This will enable the Board to recruit additional staff and meet other costs to enhance delivery of all of its services across the country.