The CEO of Community Law & Mediation (CLM), Rose Wall, today highlighted the importance of community law centres in providing access to justice for people living in disadvantaged communities.
Speaking before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality’s inquiry into Access to Justice, Rose outlined the factors that deter people from accessing legal services – including cost, lack of awareness of rights, intimidation of the legal world and long waiting times for legal aid.
Access to justice begins long before anyone steps inside a courtroom, it begins with creating an awareness of rights and the law so that the community are more empowered to use the law to enforce those rights.
As a community law centre, education is a critical part of our work. Many of our information talks and legal advice clinics are delivered on an outreach basis in locations where the community is already congregating, for example, in community organisations, public libraries and parish halls.
Our legal advice and representation services are free and embedded in the community, making them as accessible as possible.
Law centres such as Community Law & Mediation also have a critical role to play in campaigning on behalf of the community for law reform, and for the safeguarding of rights already enshrined in law.
According to CLM, the current model of legal aid is under-resourced and restricted as it does not cater for certain areas of law – key examples being employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission and appeals to the Social Welfare Appeals Office – leaving vulnerable people without access to legal aid in these important areas of law. Furthermore, there are no links with disadvantaged communities under the current model nor is there capacity to provide information and education, or campaign for law reform.
CLM called on the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality to look at restructuring the State’s Civil Legal Aid Scheme to include education and law reform functions, in line with the community law centre model. We also called for the Scheme to be properly resourced and provided on the basis of need, rather than area of law.