Vast majority of people believe justice system favours the wealthy
29th December 2021
The vast majority of people believe taking a legal case is more trouble than it is worth and that the legal system is weighted in favour of the wealthy, according to a survey conducted for Ireland’s human rights watchdog.
The findings will come as a wake-up call for authorities currently looking at measures to make the legal system more accessible and less expensive.
Over four-fifths of people agreed taking a case to court is generally more trouble than it is worth, while a similar proportion believed people with less money generally get a worse outcome in a legal case.
The survey was carried out by Amárach Research for the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
It involved interviews with 1,201 people last October as part of research into awareness of key human rights and discrimination issues.
Nine out of 10 people said they believed free legal aid was essential to ensuring equal access to justice.
The findings come as the Department of Justice is about to launch a review of the civil legal aid scheme amid widespread criticism of the means test for eligibility and the exclusion of many types of litigation.
Former chief justice Frank Clarke has been one of the most vocal critics of the scheme, saying it creates a “poverty trap” whereby some people who cannot reasonably be expected to fund litigation are deemed to earn too much to qualify for legal aid.
Separately, the department is due to get a report from consultants Indecon by next June examining different models of controlling and reducing legal costs.
The report was sought following a review of civil justice, led by former High Court president Peter Kelly, which recommended limits on fees in civil cases.
“It is deeply worrying that a huge majority of people across Ireland agree that your legal challenge will have a worse outcome if your bank balance is low, and young people in particular strongly hold this view,” said IHREC chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney.
She said access to justice meant more than “being able to swing open the courtroom door”.
“It is about being able to properly and fairly engage with our legal system irrespective of factors such as your age, your gender, your ethnicity, whether you are a disabled person or what your job or income is.
“Free legal aid is a crucial element of access to justice, and we as a commission have been consistently critical about how civil legal aid is sharply restricted.”
Ms Gibney said the review must address barriers to accessing legal aid in a timely manner and set out clear timeframes for reform.
The survey found half of people do not believe everyone in Ireland enjoys the same basic human rights.
This view was most pronounced among women, part-time workers and people who have witnessed or experienced racism or discrimination due to a disability.
Only two-fifths of those surveyed believed efforts to fight human rights abuses in Ireland were effective, while 60pc said they would not know who to contact for support if their human rights were violated.
Almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they have not witnessed or experienced racism in Ireland in the previous 12 months, while 54pc agreed Irish people welcome diversity and interculturalism.
Three-quarters of those surveyed said they had not witnessed or experienced discrimination due to a disability in the past year.
But 41pc said they did not believe people with disabilities were treated fairly, and 87pc said they face barriers in participating fully in Irish society.