The income limits which people must come under in order to qualify for legal aid for civil cases was raised in Leinster House last week by Dundalk TD Ruairí Ó Murchú who said he was aware of ‘people finding it difficult to get legal aid where actions were being taken against them which have an impact on their family home.
The Sinn Féin TD asked Minister of State James Browne about the progress of the review of income limits for those seeking legal aid.
Minister Browne said: ‘A review group has been established by my Department, chaired by the former Chief Justice, Frank Clarke, with expert membership drawn from those who work with marginalised groups, legal practitioners, academics, Department officials and representatives from the Legal Aid Board, which administers the statutory scheme. The group’s report is expected by the end of this year.
‘A call for submissions, launched last November, is the first element of the consultation and will remain open until 28 February 2023. The group has also launched a public survey to capture the views of those who have experience of the civil legal aid scheme or who have applied for it. The public survey is available online and also remains open until 28 February 2023. The third strand of consultation, which is focused on groups that are hard to reach, has recently commenced.
Deputy Ó Murchú said the review is ‘absolutely necessary’.
He said: ‘It is vital that as many people as possible, particularly stakeholders involved in the area, make submissions. I am aware of some of the fine work done via legal aid.
‘The income thresholds are a particular difficulty. The Minister of State has stated that circumstances have changed significantly over the years. The thresholds allow for €18,000 in disposable income per annum and €100,000 in disposable assets.
‘Further allowances can be made against these limits but the difficulty is that, in light of the cost-of-living crisis and high mortgage repayments, they do not necessarily cut the mustard. People are in very great difficulty. I have a particular case in mind wherein someone was facing an action that would possibly have had an impact on the family home.
‘This action was being taken by someone in receipt of legal aid but the person facing it might not have qualified. I hope that issue has been dealt with but there are difficulties.
‘We all welcome the fact that the review is happening. The minute it is dealt with, we need a report, analysis and action to be taken as quickly as possible, particularly action to deal with the issue of thresholds’.