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Written Answers - Legal Aid Service

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 754 No. 3

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 76.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter  if he will indicate the number of applications for legal aid, in both a civil and criminal context, in each of the past three years to date in 2012; the number of applications pending; his future plans, if any, to improve the legal aid service with particular reference to meet the needs of those currently on waiting lists notwithstanding the current economic climate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6516/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter As the Deputy is aware, the provision of legal aid within this State is split into two separate categories, namely civil legal aid and criminal legal aid. Under the Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962, the courts, through the Judiciary, are responsible for the granting of legal aid. An applicant for legal aid must establish to the satisfaction of the court that his/her means are insufficient to enable him/her to pay for legal representation him/herself. The assignment of lawyers or the granting of aid are matters for the Court and, as such, are handled by the Judiciary. Civil Legal Aid on the other hand is provided by the Legal Aid Board. Under the terms of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, as passed by the Oireachtas, the Legal Aid Board is entirely independent in the operation of its functions and decisions on individual cases are a matter for the Board.

I wish to inform the Deputy that in 2009 there were 16,371 applications granted for civil legal aid and 55,664 criminal legal aid certificates granted by the District Courts. The equivalent figures for 2010 are 18,623 and 55,412 respectively and for 2011, the equivalent figures are 19,706 and 54,092 respectively. There are no figures yet available for 2012. I am informed that as of 1 January 2012, there are 4,443 civil legal aid applications waiting to be processed. There are no appointments or waiting lists associated with criminal legal aid.

I am very conscious of the challengers facing the Legal Aid Board as a result of rising demand and limited resources and have actively worked to mitigate the challenges they are facing. I have ensured that the Board’s grant-in-aid for general civil matters, which accounts for the vast majority of its funding, has effectively been maintained for 2012 at its 2011 level. I [354]have also now incorporated the grant for asylum services into the grant-in-aid which should give the Board greater flexibility in using its resources. There are a number of other measures taken or being taken by the Board which I believe can have a positive impact for persons seeking services including:

The Board assuming responsibility for the Family Mediation Service;

The arrangements on foot of which barristers are retained have been in place since 1998 and are currently under review;

The Board is working with individual law centres with a view to trying to deliver greater efficiencies in a number of its centres;

The Board will be piloting a ‘triage’ service commencing next month;

The Board is involved with the Courts Service and the Family Mediation Service in a pilot integrated mediation initiative in Dublin;

The Board is developing a new legal case management system that is likely to improve the efficiency of service delivery and the management of risk in the organisation;

The Board has utilised to a significant extent the National Internship Scheme;

The Board is examining the scope of the civil legal aid services that come within the ambit of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme and how those services can be further prioritised to ensure that those most in need of its services can access them effectively.

I am confident that both the Board and management of the Legal Aid Board are very focussed on deploying their resources in a manner designed to ensure the continued availability of quality front line services and I expect that some of the changes now being introduced will, over a period of time, have a significant positive impact on service delivery.

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