We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. View our Cookies Policy. Click Accept and continue to use our website or Manage to review and update your preferences.

Justice minister wants to drive down ‘prohibitive’ legal costs
Minister Helen McEntee

22 Feb 2021 / justice Print

Justice minister wants to drive down legal costs

A plan for reduced legal fees, as well as reduced insurance costs, are set out in a Department of Justice strategy document, launched this morning by Justice minister Helen McEntee.

The minister said that improved access to justice means driving down costs though reduced legal fees.

New scales of legal costs are set to be drawn up to give more certainty to those taking court actions.

Suitable approaches

The Department of Justice is to begin identifying suitable approaches to establishing the scales.

“Not knowing how much legal proceedings could ultimately cost currently acts as a barrier to accessing justice and is damaging to our economy and competitiveness,” the minister said.

The departmental reform strategy will support Ireland’s “economy and society through regulatory, licensing and civil law reform”.

The strategy document says that legal costs are “prohibitive” and act as a barrier to people to exercising their rights before the courts, with a knock-on effect on the economy and on competitiveness, such as in the cost of buying a house, enforcing a contract, or purchasing insurance.


“The introduction of new scales of legal costs will bring down such costs and provide greater certainty on what people can expect to pay for legal services,” the document says.

The department will assess if scales should be binding, except in limited circumstances, and reforms will be focused on the needs of court users.

The introduction of pre-action protocols will facilitate early resolution of claims and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms will be promoted.

A new family court, combined with the development of pragmatic, sensitive and cohesive family law procedures, will significantly improve the experience of families interacting with the legal system at a time of great difficulty, the document says.

“We will also ensure the justice sector is more reflective of modern Irish society by improving the diversity of the judiciary, the Courts Service and the professions, and by opening up legal education to give more people clear pathways to working in the legal sector,” it says.

Defamation laws

A pledge to update defamation laws to strike the right balance between reputation and free speech, is also set out.

The strategy will also “modernise the operation of the judiciary to enable it to work more effectively and reform the process for appointing judges”.

At a live-streamed launch this morning, the minister said that tackling crime, enhancing security and transformed policing are the first goal of the justice strategy, while the second is improved access to justice through a modernised courts system.

The third goal is the strengthening of community safety and combatting domestic violence.

The fourth is a fair immigration system, and a regularisation scheme for illegal migrants will begin later this year.

The fifth goal is digital transformation, and applying climate action goals across the justice sector.


“Our first and foremost goal is to keep people safe … to protect our people and protect our State,” the minister said.

The minister also announced a regularisation scheme for thousands of undocumented migrants.

Applications for this new regularisation scheme will be accepted through an online process.

"The scheme will be open to applicants by the end of the year and could benefit an estimated 17,000 people, including 3,000 young people or children," Minister McEntee said.

The document says that Ireland “benefits economically, socially and culturally from the diversity brought to our country by those who choose to travel here to visit, to study, to work and to live”.

Demand for Irish immigration services continues to increase at a significant rate, and service has begun to transition from paper-based to digital systems.


“The development of a long-term migration strategy will allow us assess demographic, economic and larger migration trends and build a fair and balanced immigration system,” the strategy document says.

Regularising the status of long-term undocumented illegal migrants and their dependants will also make it easier for international protection applicants to access the labour market.

The cultural sector will be also helped back on its feet, post-COVID, the minister said.

Artists, musicians, DJs and promoters working in the night-time economy, as well as the hospitality sector, will be supported back to work.

The planned modernisation of Ireland’s licensing laws to potentially allow longer opening hours and to help pubs and nightclubs recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is also included in the strategy.

The minister said that domestic and sexual violence can no longer be tolerated as a lesser form of abuse.

Ireland has been transformed, not just by the social changes that have taken place, but also by the acknowledgement of the darker chapters in its short history and the damage that has been done to so many, she said.


This domestic-violence strategy means that victims will be supported by the criminal-justice system, and their abusers will be punished, she said.

Oonagh McPhillips, secretary general, said that the first live streaming of the strategy document’s launch was in response to public-health restrictions.

The department will be reporting twice a year on the progress of the strategy plan.

“Justice is a people business and serving the public is at the heart of all we do as a department,” McPhillips said.

Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne said that the launch of the “effective and clear” strategy is a hugely important day for the department.

“The plan is ambitions, but it should be,” he said.

“I want to see a justice system that is accessible and fair. I want to see all of our young people included in society,” he said.

The minster said that gardaí needed strengthened powers to hold offenders to account, and a Courts Service that was effective and efficient, to ensure that justice was done in a timely manner.

Networks that seek to lure children into criminal activities must be disrupted, he said, with community approaches to divert young people away from crime.

“We cannot arrest our way out of crime, we cannot arrest our way out of social exclusion,” he said.

Knife crime

The document includes a proposal to review knife crime and, if necessary, strengthen legislation.

The junior minister also pledged the implementation of a gambling regulator's office, which will lock in gambling legislation that has been awaited for decades.

“Gambling has caused devastation to families across this country,” he said.

The misuse of scrambler bikes has also had a devastating impact, and has caused serious injuries and even fatalities, he said

The Programme for Government has committed to considering changes to the Occupiers Liability Act and the Civil Liability Act

It also pledges to further tackle insurance costs by strengthening the Solicitors (Advertising) Regulations of 2002.

Insurance fraud

To tackle insurance fraud, co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the insurance industry will be beefed up, with an increase in penalties for fraudulent claims.

Fraudulent claims will also be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), with a pledge to consider obliging fraudulent claimants to pay legal expenses for defendants.

Perjury is also to be placed on a statutory footing, making the offence easier to prosecute.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland