(L-R Rebecca Keating, Mercy Law Resource Centre Managing Solicitor, Pat Dennigan, CEO, Focus Ireland and Eithne Lynch, Pro Bono Associate, A&L Goodbody)
Focus Ireland, A&L Goodbody, Mercy Law Resource Centre and the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) today (18th April 2019) launched “Housing Rights and Homelessness: lessons from a pro bono partnership” which sets out the successes from the first year of their pro-bono partnership providing legal advice to people facing homelessness.
The report details the experiences of an innovative Housing Law Clinic operated from the Focus Ireland ‘Coffee Shop’ service in Temple Bar. The Housing Law Clinic is a partnership between Focus Ireland, A&L Goodbody, and Mercy Law Resource Centre which was supported and facilitated by the PILA. It consists of free legal advice given to people who are homeless or at risk of losing their homes at weekly clinics, with follow up legal representation where appropriate.
The Irish legal aid system does not provide assistance in the case of housing issues and this creates a real obstacle for those experiencing homelessness or housing instability to access legal advice. The Housing Law Clinic constitutes an innovative pro bono solution which draws on the knowledge and experience of housing and homelessness advocates, housing law experts and solicitors.
The report details the history and expansion of the Housing Law Clinic and the impact of the service on those who have accessed it, giving case studies of people who were helped and experiences of the legal professionals who participated.
Thanks to the partnership approach, the service has been able to respond to the escalating crisis and help more people. 300 appointments were scheduled by the service in 2018, a 125% increase on the number of cases in 2017, prior to the new service.
Speaking at the launch of the report, Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy Mike Allen said “Focus Ireland’s advice and information staff help dozens of families and individuals to resolve their housing issues every day. We also work to propose policy and legislative changes which will tackle these issues at their roots. However, not all cases can be resolved by information and advice and a significant number of individuals and families need professional legal advice and even representation to resolve their housing problems. The failure of the legal aid system to help people with housing problems has been a major gap for years and this partnership has allowed us to ensure our customers have access to all the supports they need to avoid homelessness or exit from it.”
A&L Goodbody Managing Partner Julian Yarr shared how: "Access to justice lies at the heart of our pro bono practice. All our lawyers are encouraged to use their legal skills to tackle the most complex and challenging social issues in our community. The work at the housing clinic is challenging but this collaboration has enabled us to apply our skills and knowledge to support individuals and families out of homelessness. The partnership we have with Focus Ireland and Mercy Law allows us to do just this and we're incredibly proud of the difference we can make together."
Mercy Law Resource Centre Managing Solicitor Rebecca Keatinge added “Mercy Law Resource Centre established the legal advice clinic at Focus Ireland in 2010, so as to ensure legal advice and representation on housing and homeless matters was easily accessible to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Since 2010, MLRC solicitors have advised 1,054 individuals and supported them in overcoming serious difficulties in relation to their housing. We are delighted to expand this model of legal advice and to enhance our reach through this pro bono partnership. We greatly value the partnership with A&L Goodbody, Focus Ireland and PILA and look forward to building on the positive impacts of this important project.”
The pro bono partnership was facilitated by PILA which is a project of Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC). Legal Manager Deirdre Malone chaired the event and commented “PILA are proud to have facilitated this excellent pro bono model where a law firm, independent law centre and NGO work in partnership to deliver legal advice to those who need it most.
However, long term it is incumbent on the State itself to honour its commitment to ensure that the statutory legal aid system delivers effective access to justice for the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups”