Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys has today welcomed the launch of a public consultation on the reform of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme.
The public consultation is phase two of a comprehensive, multiphase consultation process that is a key part of the ongoing, independent review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme. A stakeholder consultation opened for submissions on 14 November 2022 and remains open until 3 February 2023, and it is intended that a targeted consultation for hard-to-reach groups will be launched at a later date.
Speaking on the launch of the second phase of the consultation today, Minister Humphreys said:
"The Civil Legal Aid Scheme is being reviewed for the first time in its 40 year history as committed to in the Justice Plan 2022 and the Programme for Government. The Scheme provides legal aid and advice to people of limited means in civil proceedings, which is integral in ensuring that people have fair access to justice so it is important those supports are accessible, fair and effective.
The launch of the public consultation marks a key milestone in that process, giving individuals with experience of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme or interested individuals to participate in the review process.
Consulting widely with the people who will be affected by our policy decisions, and who know the lived experience of interacting with Schemes like the Civil Legal Aid Scheme, is really important to us as legislators and policy makers.
Allowing people to share their experience and have their say improves transparency and is more likely to ensure that any recommendations for review of the Scheme will be cognisant of the reality on the ground and better attuned to the needs of 21st century Ireland.
I would encourage people to respond to the survey and take this opportunity to help shape the review.”
An Independent Review Group, chaired by former Chief Justice, Mr. Frank Clarke, is responsible for the oversight of the consultation process.
The Group’s terms of reference require them to examine all aspects of the current operation of the scheme and make recommendations regarding the future legal assistance needs of those who cannot afford to access legal advice and representation privately. The responses to this part of the consultation process will inform that work.
Mr Clarke said:
“The aim of this Review is to ensure that we have a fair and robust Civil Legal Aid Scheme and as such we will be considering a number of issues, including eligibility for Civil Legal Aid.
This public consultation is a valuable opportunity to learn more about the lived experience of those who have interacted with the Scheme.
However, you do not need to have engaged with the Scheme directly, or even have dealt with a civil legal issue, to contribute.
Ensuring access to justice for all is a lynchpin of any democratic society – and a key professional interest of mine. I would like to hear from anyone who wishes to share their views on how we can improve our efforts to achieve this.”
This work is the second phase of a multi-phase consultation process to capture a broad of range of views across society. Minister Humphreys added:
“The Group is here to listen and wants to hear from a diverse range of voices on this issue.
"To this end, the Review Group will, in the coming months, begin a third consultation specifically designed to enable hard-to-reach groups to contribute to the discussion. I look forward to hearing what each group has to say.”
The public consultation will run from 8 December 2022 until 3 February 2023. Full details on the consultation and the link to access the survey can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/79e1d-public-consultation-on-the-review-of-the-civil-legal-aid-scheme/
Notes for Editors
- The Civil Legal Aid scheme provides legal aid and advice to people of limited means in civil disputes, including in family law.
- In June 2022, Minister McEntee announced a comprehensive review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme, for the first time in its more than 40-year history.
- The Independent Civil Legal Aid Review Group has commenced its work, which is expected to take a period of 12 months. It will make periodic progress reports to the Minister for Justice before submitting a final report once its work is completed.
- As part of the review process, there will be significant consultation, including a public consultation, to ensure that the insights of a range of stakeholders regarding the operation of the scheme – and how best to support those of limited means with legal needs – will inform the work of the Review Group.
- Capturing the views of those with unmet legal needs will be an important part of the Group’s consultation and engagement.
- The Review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme is part of a broader civil justice reform programme Minister McEntee is spearheading across her Justice Plan 2022.
- This includes the establishment of a dedicated family court structure, the finalisation of the first national strategy on family justice, an independently chaired Judicial Planning Working Group, which is examining the number and type of judges needed over the next five years to ensure access to justice and the Implementation Plan on Civil Justice Efficiencies and Reform Measures, which has been published.
- Ultimately the review should map out a future for the Civil Legal Aid Scheme, one which will provide for a flexible service that has, as far as possible, the capacity and resources to respond to the priority legal assistance needs of those of insufficient means.
Notes on participating in the public consultation survey
The results of the public consultation survey inform the work of the Civil Legal Aid Review Group as it considers the current scheme and its future.
The Group is now providing an opportunity for members of the public to respond to the survey relation to the following themes:
- Awareness of the Scheme
- Experience of the Scheme
- Accessing the Scheme
- What the Scheme should cover
- Future of the Scheme
Full details on the consultation and the link to access the survey can be found at https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/79e1d-public-consultation-on-the-review-of-the-civil-legal-aid-scheme/
The deadline for completing the survey is 3 February 2023.
Submissions may be published in the future and will fall under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2014.
The Group is also developing other elements to its consultation, including gathering the views of relevant stakeholders via a separate consultation which is currently underway, and engaging with those who have unmet legal needs.