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Legal Aid

State provision of health care probably precedes State legal aid, although arguably it should not. After all, it is the State that creates the circumstances where a person needs legal advice and help; nature creates the need for health care, but the State makes the law.

In Ireland most legal aid is of the private variety. Go to a solicitor or, sometimes, a barrister and pay for advice as required.

In Ireland there are two free legal aid systems; free legal aid, subject to means testing, for persons charged with a criminal offence and free legal aid, subject to different means testing, for persons requiring advice and help with a civil law problem.

The devil, as always, is in the detail. The civil legal aid system, essentially, is available for family law problems and little else.

This situation cannot stand and, in the usual manner in which these things happen in Ireland, change can and has come from individual case law decisions, the most recent being Magee -v- Farrell & Ors [2005] IEHC 388
Here the Plaintiff was the mother of a deceased man who died in Garda custody. She could not afford representation at the inquest and successfully applied to the court to vindicate her constitutional right to State-funded legal aid in relation to the inquest hearing.

The criminal legal aid system works quite well; members of the legal profession put themselves forward for entry on the Legal Aid Panel. When a person is charged with an offence s/he can apply (subject to means testing) to the court to have a lawyer assigned to the case from the panel. The accused person may name the lawyer of his/her choice or the court may choose the lawyer for the accused person.

The civil legal aid system consists, essentially, of a group of lawyers in the employment of the State, practising from “Legal Aid Centresâ€? located in various places around the State. For some applicants the journey to the Centre is of considerable length.

There are delays before the “clientâ€? first meets the lawyer in the Centre assigned to the case. In the recent past these delays are being reduced by the adoption of a system not unlike the criminal legal aid system. Private practitioners have been invited to enter a panel of practitioners willing to take cases from the Centre. When the delays in the Centre are excessive, the “surplusâ€? work is assigned to a private practitioner on the panel.

Only poor people will pass the means test for the civil legal aid scheme.

Many of the legal problems of poor persons involve making applications to various tribunals; (the Employment Appeals Tribunal [EAT] is one such). Despite the professed intention that the EAT should be informal and not require the presence of lawyers, employers invariably employ lawyers to represent them there. It is unrealistic not to recognise that there will be inequality of arms if the employee is not similarly represented.

There is no provision for extending the civil legal aid system to such tribunals.

So much for the State and its legal aid.

There is, finally, another “system”: many solicitors and barristers in Ireland refuse to see injustice perpetuated and commence working when the aggrieved person applies to them. This is a form of private charitable work which essentially bails out the State in its most egregious (I hate that word) defaults.


  1. dear sir/madam, my son has recently part exchanged a petrol scooter for a manual motorbike and 500 euro to a dealer, the dealer has had said scooter in his possesion for some three weeks, he now has said he wants the motorbike we exchanged back and the 500 euro because he has said the scooter he cant sell because he says its speedometer has been clocked, and its damaged,my son is now the registerd owner of the manual motorbike,he says he dosent care and wants it back? where do we stand in all this,please can you help us

  2. Dear Mr. Farrell,

    Please confirm whether the transaction took place in Ireland.

    Please confirm whether your son purchased the “new” motorbike on a financing arrangement.

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  1. By McGarr Solicitors » Inequality of Arms on Wednesday, June 27, 2007 at 10:10 am

    […] have written about Irish legal aid elsewhere. Litigation anywhere can be ruinously […]