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Barriers to free legal aid must be lifted from Civil Law Bill - Doherty

9 April, 2008

Speaking in the Seanad today on the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty said a barrier to access of free legal aid included in the Bill must be removed.

The Donegal Senator said, "The Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill seeks to amend the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 to restrict access to free legal aid contribution waivers and reductions except in circumstances where to do so would cause 'sever hardship' to the applicant.

"The 'severe hardship' test is excessive. It will overly limit and restrict the assistance that the legal aid board can offer to those who cannot afford access to legal services. The current means-test is already failing many as it fails to take personal indebtedness or other financial commitments into consideration.

"The effect of this Bill will be to make only the most minimal of protections available, meaning that more and more real legal needs will go unmet. When the safety net is this low - backs will undoubtedly be broken.

"I am calling on the Minister to delete this section from the Bill or at a minimum to reduce the test from 'severe hardship' to 'hardship' only." ENDS

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