IHREC publish Submission to the Independent Review of Civil Legal Aid Scheme

 Equal Access to Justice is a Fundamental Human Right says Commission

 In June 2022, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee initiated a review of the Civil Legal Aid Scheme for the first time in its more than 40-year history. Today the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“Commission”) has published its Submission to the Independent Review of Civil Legal Aid Scheme.

Central to our submission are recommendations on some of the key reforms that we believe are necessary in order to bring the current system into line with best human rights and equality policy.

We welcome this opportunity to make these recommendations as we have repeatedly highlighted shortcomings with the current scheme and have previously made recommendations, including to extend the scope of the Legal Aid Board (“LAB”), to review the financial contribution, and to ensure the LAB is adequately resourced.

As Ireland recovers and rebuilds from the Covid-19 pandemic, we continue to experience the housing crisis and have now entered a cost of living crisis. These compounded crises are exacerbating issues of economic inequality, making fair and effective access to civil legal aid even more pressing.

Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said:

“Equal access to justice is a cornerstone of a fair democracy. Our 2022-2024 Strategy Plan specifically highlights the need to broaden access to Legal Aid in order to fulfil our human rights obligations.”


“In 2015 the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals included, for the first time, providing access to justice for all. Addressing the gaps in the provision of civil legal aid in the State is part of ensuring access to justice.”


“Ultimately, we want to ensure that our Civil Legal Aid Scheme actively enables people to access their rights, whatever their background. Equal access to justice is a fundamental human right. And it’s one that we need to deliver on.”


The Commission Recommendations include:

 On Eligibility

  • That if a means test is required, a more flexible approach to its application should be adopted.
  • That if a means test is required, the income, capital and allowance thresholds should be adjusted to realistic levels to take account of increases in the cost of living and additional costs incurred by structurally vulnerable groups, for example the Cost of Disability.
  • That any financial eligibility criteria be reviewed annually against national poverty proofing standards, that the Department of Justice should publish the underlying analysis, and that they should be based on human rights and equality principles.

On Accessibility

  • That access to justice, defined in a manner that complies with human rights and equality standards, be a core value of the Legal Aid Board.
  • That the State conduct a review into the barriers which may impede the accessibility of the Scheme for structurally vulnerable groups.
  • That the Civil Legal Aid Scheme be equality proofed to guarantee equality of access to civil legal aid and advice for all those who need to avail of the Scheme.

On Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking

  • That the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 is amended to provide that the Legal Aid Board may provide free legal advice and aid to all victims of sexual offences.
  • That the term ‘suspected victim of human trafficking’ be used in place of ‘potential victim of human trafficking’.
  • That all suspected victims of trafficking be proactively provided with adequate and early legal support.
  • That the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 should be amended to allow for separate legal representation for victims of sexual exploitation offences committed under section 4 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. As such, this would require amendment to the 1995 Act.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Clarkin, IHREC Communications Manager,
01 852 9641 / 087 468 7760
Follow us on twitter @_IHREC


Notes to editors: The full Submission can be downloaded at: https://www.ihrec.ie/documents/submission-to-the-independent-review-of-the-civil-legal-aid-scheme/

Before Monday at:  https://www.ihrec.ie/app/uploads/2023/05/Submission-to-the-Independent-Review-of-Civil-Legal-Aid-Scheme.pdf