The Bar of Ireland recognise that in order for any legal system to operate at its optimum level, access must be enjoyed by all stakeholders and all members of society. Vulnerable sections of society often encounter difficulties in accessing the legal system. While there are state run initiatives aimed at reducing such difficulties, these are insufficient and The Bar of Ireland strives to do what it can to address such a deficit.
Barristers in Ireland operate what is known as an Independent Referral Bar. This means that they do not source work directly from clients but rely on solicitors and, to a lesser extent, other professional bodies and organisations to refer work to them. As a result, the extent to which barristers can provide voluntary services largely depends on how much they are asked to provide those services by solicitors and other organisations.
The other alternatives for free legal assistance exist in the form of the State Legal Aid scheme and voluntary organisations such as FLAC, Community Law and Mediation Northside and Limerick, and the Ballymun Community Law Centre. The Legal Aid Scheme is restricted and under-funded, with long waiting lists. The other organisations do make use of barristers’ services for voluntary work, but these organisations are themselves over-subscribed and under-funded.
As a profession, the Bar has a long tradition of protecting and advancing the interests of less well-off members of society. We are anxious to continue and expand that tradition, but to do this the existing structures for providing barristers’ services need updating. This is why we set up the Voluntary Assistance scheme.