The use of strict confidentiality clauses in the settlement of proceedings against the State has been criticised by the independent legal aid body, Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac).
Flac chief executive Eilis Barry said she failed to see how such clauses can be in the public interest as they “effectively act to inhibit discussion of allegations of wrongdoing by the State”.
Flac takes on a number of legal cases each year in the public interest.
The issue is highlighted in Flac’s annual report 2018, published today, in which concerns are also raised about the “imprecise nature of the legislation dealing with Garda vetting prior to the allocation of local authority housing and the nature of some disclosures being made by An Garda Síochána, containing misinformation and hearsay, leading to a delay or refusal of housing”.
Ms Barry said gardaí needed guidance about their vetting role. She said they had written to the Garda Commissioner highlighting their concerns. Key highlights for
One of Flac’s highlights in 2018 was included securing one of the highest awards of compensation given by the Residential Tenancy Board (RTB) in a case concerning an unauthorised eviction carried out by a landlord against a couple and their three children who became homeless as a result.
The landlord was ordered to pay €13,766.15 — €10,000 in damages for the unlawful termination of the tenancy, €3,000 in damages in respect of breaches of landlord’s obligations and €766.15 in respect of unreturned deposit.
In a separate case, a Roma woman who was refused a job in a hotel because she was wearing a traditional skirt, received financial compensation in the settlement of an employment discrimination claim.
Overall, 25,164 people received basic legal information or advice from Flac in 2018, of which almost one quarter related to family law, principally divorce and separation and concerns about custody, access, or guardianship.
Approximately one in 10 related to employment law, and 7.7% to housing.
Ms Barry said they advocated throughout last year for a “root and branch review” of the 40-year-old legal aid scheme.
She said Chief Justice Frank Clarke “recently reiterated his call for a broader and deeper legal aid scheme and has set out the economic and moral arguments to support such an investment”.
“The Legal Aid Board is a fundamental part of the administration of justice and the rule of law, and needs a major investment of resources to deal with all kinds of cases, where the greatest need is including housing and discrimination claims,” Ms Barry said.
While they welcomed the recent enactment of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2019 which gives greater powers to the Circuit Court to refuse to grant a possession order, they were concerned that the board “simply does not have the resources to deal with the significant increase in demand which it will now face”.