Note in relation to employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission:
Employment equality law can be complex and technical and the clients that CLM assists are often working in low paid, precarious jobs, and cannot afford the services of a lawyer.
While the intention in creating the WRC was to remove the need for lawyers from the workplace disputes process, it is our experience that, in practice, employers tend to engage legal representation which creates a real cause for concern from the point of view of equality of arms and natural justice.
There are other accessibility issues with the WRC too, such as the increasingly online process, and the Labour Court’s requirements for “front loading” appeals with detailed written submissions, often from unrepresented lay litigants. The WRC requires written submissions in advance in employment equality claims, creating an often insurmountable barrier for Claimants.
The short time periods within which claims must be submitted to the WRC also acts as a barrier. Most claims must be submitted within six months, with an extension to 12 months in very limited circumstances. For an individual who is emerging from a difficult experience, this is an extremely tight deadline.
Breakdown of proposed reforms to the Government Legal Aid Scheme:
Remove the statutory limitations of the existing Scheme.
So that people can access legal aid in all areas of law, including appeals before the Workplace Relations Commission or the Social Welfare Appeals Office. For example, a person experiencing discrimination in the workplace cannot currently apply for legal aid for employment and equality cases before the Workplace Relations Commission.
Make the financial means test to access legal aid more inclusive.
The existing means test is overly strict and out of touch with the reality of the cost of living, with the result that people on low incomes, who cannot afford a solicitor, are denied legal aid.
Ensure the Legal Aid Board is adequately resourced.
So that waiting times to access legal aid are reduced. Waiting times for a first consultation can be an average of 38 weeks in some parts of the country. This is simply too long to wait and can cause issues for those seeking legal remedies with strict time limits such as Judicial Review, which has an effective time limit of three months.
Reform the model of civil legal aid.
So that stronger links can be developed with disadvantaged communities through education in relation to rights and through campaigns for law reform on issues affecting those communities.
Government review of access to justice must be revisited.
The review of access to justice, commenced by the Joint Committee on Justice & Equality last December, must be revisited when the new Committee is in place.