Chief Justice Donal O’Donnell and his predecessor Frank Clarke said free legal advice centers should be rolled out nationwide to better inform the public of their legal rights and entitlements and to ensure that justice is seen to be done .
Mr Justice O’Donnell said he agreed with the terms of the bill on Ireland’s first formal misconduct complaint procedure, which will have no power to investigate retroactive claims against judges.
He was speaking after speaking at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the Community Law Mediation Service (CLM) in Limerick, the only independent Community law center outside Dublin.
Justice O’Donnell said in March that the law becomes “dangerously disconnected” from the public it is meant to serve if people do not have adequate access to information about their legal rights and the courts. The law was not only something ‘imposed’ on people or a ‘burden’, but could also be used to ‘fight’ for people’s rights.
“Sometimes I think people see the law, and that’s understandable, as something that does something to them, and yet I think CLM and other similar organizations are showing that the law can be a weapon that you can use to improve your situation – this message is very important to convey,” he said on Wednesday.
The CLM model, in which lawyers provide free face-to-face legal advice in church halls, community centers or by telephone, should be a national service, he said. The law could be a “multifactor problem” and required “a multifactor solution” of which CLM was a “very helpful” part.
“CLM has shown that there is a very large space not only for legal advice but also for mediation and general advice within the community, and this is a model that (should) be developed, it is going well beyond the idea of just representing someone in court – it deserves to be encouraged and recognized,” he added.
The law was not a perfect instrument because “there are a lot of days when it’s depressing, a lot of days when it’s disheartening, and it’s important to recognize the difference that CLM makes”, he said. declared.
CLM Limerick had described the means test to access civil legal aid as “out of touch” with the reality of the current cost of living and housing crises.
Supporting the ongoing review of the civil legal aid scheme, the chief justice said “we hope (it) will be reformed”, and he said that an “access to justice” group, set up place by Mr Clarke, “hoped to do something about civil legal aid alongside the review”.
The first-ever formal judicial misconduct complaints mechanism is expected to be operational within weeks, and will provide for a range of sanctions, including removal of a judge – currently only the Dáil has this power under Article 35.4 .1 of the Constitution. , and to date no judge has ever been dismissed.
Since the new complaints regime will not have retroactive effect, it cannot deal with allegations against judges made before it came into force. When asked whether or not he agreed with that, the Chief Justice replied: ‘It is fundamentally a fundamental principle of law that the law must operate prospectively – in any case, c That’s the structure that’s been established, and I think it’s probably a good idea to work with it and let it work.
Mr Clarke, who has been appointed chairman of the Law Reform Commission, said it was ‘striking that there is only one CLM center outside of Dublin, here in Limerick – the whole country needs a service like this”.
“Obviously it has to be paid for and supported by private or public sources, but I think the lesson to be learned from what’s being done here is that we need this kind of thing nationally, and not just in Dublin and Limerick.”
Mr Clarke, who is a board member of CLM, said: “There are a range of reasons why people don’t have access to justice, sometimes it’s financial but sometimes it’s just a disconnect, and you need organizations that have a reach in the community, especially in parts of the community that wouldn’t naturally go to a lawyer.
“So to be able to build on something like a community operation that has that kind of awareness is certainly, I think, part of the model by which you can do justice better.”
Mr Clarke, who chairs the Civil Legal Aid System Review Group, said everyone involved ‘wants to be able to produce the report within the timeframe we have been given’.
The review group is due to deliver its findings in July 2023.