The Legal Aid Board (LAB) is to sharpen its focus on marginalised groups.
A new Statement of Strategy for 2021-2023 reiterates that the Legal Aid Board was established as an instrument by which the concept of equality before the law could be brought substantially nearer to realisation in practice.
It does this as a State agency that provides legal advice and legal representation in civil law cases to persons of limited means, as well as providing the family mediation service. Since 2019, the Legal Aid Board provided services to almost 25,000 people.
Quality assurance on the work of private practitioners on LAB panels will be peer-reviewed and training requirements identified. Files will also be reviewed on an annual basis.
The board will step up efforts to reach marginalised groups, and if necessary deliver its services in new ways to meet these needs.
Chair Philip O’Leary said: “The Legal Aid Board is committed to ensuring that those who are most marginalised are able to access our services and that we must be prepared to adapt our own way of doing business to enable this to happen.
“We will work closely with stakeholders to identify how our services can be made more accessible to those who may not easily engage with the usual process of applying to a public body for a service.”
Policies on the use of technology to enable remote access to legal services will also be established.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legal Aid Board has provided first consultations with solicitors by telephone, and mediation by telephone and video-conference.
The option of video-conference for solicitor consultations was also added.
Chief executive John McDaid said a significant number of new clients welcomed the availability of remote services, because of geographical factors and family duties.
“We will build on this experience and set in place a policy to oversee the delivery of our services to clients through technology.
“At the same time we must ensure that our services remain equally accessible to those for whom accessing or using technology is challenging.”
The strategy makes additional commitments on the allocation of resources and staff development.
There will be a focus on staff diversity and the steps required to make the board’s workforce more reflective of the broader community.
Measures to reduce waiting times will also be examined.