Thomas Pringle TD

Press Release: Donegal TD Deputy Pringle highlights barriers to justice for people with disabilities

Speaking to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, Independent TD for Donegal Deputy Thomas Pringle raised the ongoing failures in providing access to justice in Ireland for people with disabilities. “According to the National Disability Authority, people with disabilities face barriers to access to justice when reporting crimes, throughout the courts process and after the trial.”

Deputy Pringle challenged the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Legal Aid Board on what he calls a “lack of systematic data collection on people with disabilities within the Irish justice system, without which it is impossible to accurately assess their experience in the system. The legal sector must ensure that their employees are sufficiently trained in dealing with the needs of people with disabilities, who are often treated as invisible within an intimidating and difficult-to-navigate system. It is also crucial that all courthouses and Garda stations around the country are made physically accessible to people with disabilities.”

Commending the efforts of FLAC, the Free Legal Aid Centres, to make the justice system more disability-friendly, Deputy Pringle expressed “support for their calls for trained access officers to be present in all court rooms to ensure that people with disabilities are facilitated, for court forms and information documents to be made available in accessible formats, and for online court services to be developed.”

“Not only are there issues around rural disability and access to justice, but questions still remain over access for all people, particularly in light of the closure of a number of rural courthouses during the recession.”

Deputy Pringle also pressed the Legal Aid Board to “better publicise their services, so that citizens are aware of their rights in relation to legal aid. The Department of Justice, the Oireachtas and the Legal Aid Board all have a role to play in carrying out analysis of the effects of new legislation on the workload of the Legal Aid Board, to estimate potential costs and allow resources for legal aid to be allocated and targeted accordingly. It is vitally important that we sufficiently fund legal aid so that it can be fully accessible to those who need it.”

“Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 obliges public sector bodies such as the Courts Service and the Legal Aid Board to promote equality. I will continue to put pressure on the Government to ensure that people with disabilities can fully exercise their rights,” concluded Pringle.