Strong demand for free community-based legal services highlights limitations of Civil Legal Aid Scheme

By Elizabeth Devine, Wednesday, 30th October 2019 | 0 comments

Demand for free legal services in the area of employment law grew last year, according to Community Law & Mediation (CLM), highlighting the limitations of the State’s Civil Legal Aid Scheme in providing support for people who are experiencing difficulties in the workplace.

CLM, which publishes its 2018 Annual Report today, assisted more than 3,000 people through its free community-based legal, mediation and education services last year. In addition to employment law cases, housing and family issues drove strong demand for the organisation’s services.

Rose Wall, CEO of CLM commented: “As a community-based law centre, we see a range of issues coming through our services and in most cases, the individuals and families involved have nowhere else to go for assistance. Last year, we brought a series of successful public interest cases in relation to discrimination in the workplace; difficulties accessing social housing; refusal of emergency accommodation; and problems accessing social welfare payments.

In one instance, we assisted an individual who had represented herself before the Workplace Relations Commission, alleging discrimination by her employer and constructive dismissal. She found the complaints and adjudication process confusing and intimidating and her case was unsuccessful. We lodged an appeal to the Labour Court on her behalf, challenging the decision of the WRC, and a satisfactory settlement was reached.

It is clear that the lack of legal aid for employment and equality cases and for social welfare appeals is a major barrier to enforcing citizens’ rights. We support the recent calls by partner organisations such as FLAC for a review of the legal aid scheme. We also call for expansion of the scheme to include employment and equality cases before the WRC and social welfare appeals before the Social Welfare Appeals Office”.

In addition to its services, CLM campaigned for law reform, and for the safeguarding of rights already enshrined in law, in areas such as education, housing, disability rights, social protection, employment and equality last year. The Report can be read in full here.

ENDS

For further information please contact Elizabeth Devine, Communications Manager, CLM. Tel: 01 847 7804 Mobile: 087 6404 704

Note to Editors

Community Law & Mediation (CLM) was established in 1975 as the first independent, community-based law centre in Ireland.

Today, CLM supports more than 3,000 people annually through its range of services, which include free legal advice and representation; information and education; and mediation and conflict coaching. It operates two Community Law Centres, CLM Northside (Dublin) and CLM Limerick, and partners with other organisations to provide outreach advice clinics around Ireland.

Other statistics in relation to CLM’s services in 2018:

  • CLM held more than 180 legal advice clinics last year. The organisation also collaborated with the Citizens Information Board, MABS, the Clondalkin Traveller Development Group and Novas Limerick to provide outreach legal advice clinics around the country. As part of a new collaboration with the National Women’s Council of Ireland, we will provide monthly employment law advice clinics for women, commencing on 31st October 2019.
  • We observed a significant increase in demand for our mediation service last year, reflecting a growing demand for mediation as an alternative approach to resolving disputes and one that enables people to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. The majority of mediation cases involved parental/wider family issues, followed by community/neighbour and workplace mediation cases.
  • We published two information guides last year – a comprehensive guide to social housing for advocates and individuals/families who are on the social housing list or seeking to apply for social housing; and an information leaflet on homelessness.
  • We also ran an education and training programme, which included Know Your Rights talks on areas such as Enduring Power of Attorney, Wills, the Fair Deal Scheme, family law and how to apply for social housing. An online Housing Law and Policy course, in partnership with the University of Limerick, ran from September to December and was accessible to people all around the country. Our Legal Eagles Schools Project, funded by Dublin City Council, involved transition year students at two local secondary schools in Coolock.
  • CLM has a panel of 66 experienced and dedicated volunteer barristers, solicitors and mediators. Our volunteer mediators delivered 1,360 hours of free mediation services last year.
  • We continued to update Casebase – the only publicly accessible database of reports of decisions of the Social Welfare Appeals Office. The aim of the database is to provide greater clarity around the reasons for decisions on cases and to assist members of the public and advocacy organisations with their preparations for similar cases.
  • CLM also campaigned for law reform, and for the safeguarding of rights already enshrined in law, in areas such as education, housing, disability rights, social protection, employment and equality. We hosted three roundtable discussions on the Caravan Loan Scheme, mental health and the social welfare system and the practice of reduced timetables in schools.

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