54. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to extend the civil legal aid scheme administered by the Legal Aid Board in order to provide dedicated legal advice to debtors at repossession hearings, given that there is such a low rate of attendance among debtors at such proceedings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9222/16]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): As the Deputy may be aware, on 22nd January 2016 the Government announced a scheme to help persons who are insolvent and in mortgage arrears on their home, to access independent financial and legal advice. This scheme is being co-ordinated by my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection, and with the involvement of agencies including the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Citizens Information Board.
I can advise the Deputy that under the scheme as envisaged, there are three main legal aid components:
1. A Solicitor Consultation Service;
2. A Duty Solicitor Service; and
3. A Personal Insolvency Arrangement Review (PIA Review) - Legal Aid Service.
The solicitor consultation service is to provide a single legal advice consultation to an eligible person. In certain circumstances and upon prior approval by the Board, the service may extend to conducting negotiations for the settlement of repossession proceedings and a second consultation in those circumstances. The Consultation Service shall include but not be limited to:
- arranging a consultation with the client and taking instructions
- checking the borrower's legal position,
- explaining clearly the position to the borrower and answering their questions,
- advising the borrower on any related legal complications (for example where a co-borrower is not co-operating in efforts to resolve the mortgage arrears) or where needed, on legal aspects of alternative solutions,
- informing the person who does not have a legal defence to repossession, but who might benefit from accompaniment to Court, of the existence of the duty solicitor service,
- advising and facilitating the person to make an application for civil legal aid to defend the proceedings (outside the scope of this scheme) if they have a good defence capable of meeting the merits criteria under section 24 and 28 of the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995.
The principle of the duty solicitor service is that a solicitor is in attendance at the court to provide assistance generally, to persons who have been served with proceedings for re-possession of their home and who do not have legal representation. The duty solicitor is paid for their time rather than by case. Persons who have been served with a Civil Bill for Repossession of their home which is listed for hearing before the County Registrar and who have been given a legal advice voucher, may avail of the Duty Solicitor Service.
The PIA Review Legal Aid Service relates to applications to the Circuit Court or High Court where a debtor has sought to come to an arrangement with his or her creditors with the assistance of a Personal Insolvency Practitioner but the creditors or one of them has not approved the arrangement, the debtor wishes to seek the court's overruling of the creditors objections, and the Personal Insolvency Practitioner believes there are good grounds for doing so.
The development of this scheme is at an advanced stage and I expect that it will be introduced in the near future.