Newbridge has highest free legal calls

NEWBRIDGE is by far the busiest of three free legal aid centres in Kildare, the legal rights group, FLAC, said on the launch of its annual report for 2011.

NEWBRIDGE is by far the busiest of three free legal aid centres in Kildare, the legal rights group, FLAC, said on the launch of its annual report for 2011.

The group said the public’s need for information and assistance on legal matters continues to rise across Ireland, with 25,000 people contacting its telephone information line and legal advice centres last year.

FLAC operate four legal advice services in county Kildare in co-operation with the Citizen Information Service. They are run by volunteer solicitors and barristers.

There is a session in Maynooth every second Thursday, in Newbridge on the first and third Tuesday of each month, in Athy on the fourth Monday of the month and in Naas on the third Wednesday of each month.

A FLAC spokesperson said while its does not have information for Maynooth in 2011, between the other three centres 323 people were provided with legal advice and information. “Newbridge was by far the busiest of the three centres,” it said.

Over one third of all queries in Kildare in 2011 were family law matters, with debt related queries the second most frequently discussed area of law accounting for 13% of all queries.

Employment issues followed closely with 12% of all queries.

Noeline Blackwell, the FLAC Director General, said they noted a particular development around increasing debt problems intersecting with family, employment and housing. “FLAC has focused on reforming laws around personal debt. We need an independent, out-of-court debt settlement structure that will examine people’s personal debt in a holistic way and where possible aim to keep people in their homes.”

Praising the solicitors and barristers who volunteer their time at FLAC’s part-time advice centres around the country, Ms Blackwell said that the government needed first to understand the justice gap in Ireland before it can properly reform legal services here in a way that would truly widen access to justice for all.

There are elements missing from the proposed Legal Services Reform Bill that could open up the law for more people, such as a better funded state legal aid system and a focus on making the courts more accessible, she said.

She said their work has been about making the system just and fair. “Any person can end up fully reliant on outside support, in circumstances beyond his or her control, and it is therefore in everyone’s interest to make all our systems respect basic human rights and decency, especially in recessionary times.”

It has also advocated a fairer social welfare system.

The full report is available from (http://www.flac.ie)

- Henry Bauress