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Calls to FLAC hit highest level since 2015
Eilis Barry of FLAC

27 Jun 2022 / justice Print

Calls to FLAC hit highest level since 2015

FLAC, which campaigns for improved access to justice, says that it received more than 13,000 calls to its telephone information line last year – the highest number since 2015.

The group said that almost 30% of all queries related to family-law matters, such as divorce, separation, domestic violence, and custody-and-maintenance issues.

According to its annual report, 2,729 consultations were also held during 2021. More than one-third of these related to a family-law query, with 30% linked to employment law.

FLAC also supports organisations that advocate and provide services to disadvantaged communities, and 110 of these received legal assistance through the Public Interest Law Alliance’s Pro Bono Referral Scheme – a project run by FLAC.

The group, which also takes on cases in the public interest, opened 30 new case files in 20221, mainly in the areas of housing, social welfare and discrimination.

People ‘daunted’ by court forms

Speaking at the publication of the report, chief executive Eilis Barry said that it was hearing from individuals and families who were under “enormous pressure” in the areas of employment and family law.

“Callers were stressed because they didn’t qualify for legal aid, many narrowly missing the means test,” she stated.

“In one particular case, a caller was over the legal aid means test by €500, and had incurred legal costs in a contested family-law matter of in excess of €20,000,” Barry said.

The FLAC chief executive stated that many callers tried to navigate the courts system alone, adding that the organisation had nowhere to refer these ‘lay litigants’, who were “completely daunted” by court forms and procedures.

‘Radical re-imagining’ call

According to the annual report, employment-law queries were the second-highest area for inquiries last year, while FLAC also noted an increase of almost 10% in queries linked to housing.

“It is a matter of concern that we may have nowhere to refer callers looking for advice or representation in employment-law cases,” said Barry, pointing out that there was currently no legal aid for employment and discrimination claims before the Workplace Relations Commission.

The FLAC chief executive warned that its figure for queries was “just the tip of the iceberg”, and highlighted the need for the frontloading of accessible early legal information, advice, and advocacy.

Welcoming the Government’s establishment of a review of the civil legal-aid system, the group called for “a radical re-imagining” of how the various aspects of access to justice were delivered.

Traveller service ‘a model’

According to the annual report, FLAC’s Traveller Legal Service (TLS) received 85 new queries, most of which related to housing and accommodation matters.

The TLS acted in three sets of judicial-review proceedings on housing matters, two of which settled in favour of FLAC’s clients.

The group’s managing solicitor Sinéad Lucey said that its litigation highlighted “the ongoing specific and acute” legal needs of people and marginalised communities living in poverty and disadvantage.

“The harsh reality is that FLAC cannot provide representation beyond a very limited number of cases,” she said.

“However, services such as the Traveller Legal Service provide a model for how the right of access to justice of such communities may be vindicated through the provision of dedicated legal services with the involvement of the community,” Lucey added.

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