Legal experts have said there will be a crisis within the free legal aid industry if State funding is not increased.

The Free Legal Advice Centre today called for a root and branch review of the civil legal aid system to include funding of the Legal Aid Board. 

Speaking to the Committee on Justice and Equality, the Chief Executive of FLAC Eilis Barry, said the courts were becoming limited to the wealthy.

She said the Government must invest significant resources into the legal aid system and into the courts.

She said that people who are socially disadvantaged very often experience legal problems in accessing social welfare, housing and addressing unemployment.

Ms Barry also said there has been no economic and social analysis of the impact of the failure to provide civil legal aid in certain areas.

Fianna Fáil's Justice Spokesperson Jim O'Callaghan, asked if victims of crime and those who are accused of crimes are being provided with effective access and protection in the justice system.

Responding, Director General at the Law Society of Ireland, Ken Murphy, said there is a failure to adequately fund the criminal legal aid system which he said will have an impact on access to justice for individuals.

He said there has been no restoration of the cuts that took place during the economic crisis, despite appeals to ministers.

Mr Murphy said the age of the profession that provides criminal legal aid is rising because young lawyers are not going into this area which he said will have consequences for the future.

Seán Ó'hUallacháin, Senior Counsel at the Bar Council of Ireland, told the Committee that there are deficits in provision of civil and criminal legal aid and he said enhanced resources are needed.

He said there is an acute problem where 70% of practitioners start out in criminal law but leave by year six.

He said there are young members who want to work in the area of crime but don't because of low pay rates.

He said that if the trend continues the whole process will slow down because there won't be enough solicitors to represent people. 

The Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Board John McDaid, told the committee that there are over 100 people waiting for legal advice with some waiting for over a year.

He said the Board had provided services to over 18,000 new clients last year.

Mr McDaid said there were waiting times at their law centres but he said more than half of people will get the advice they need immediately. 

He said there are challenges facing the Board including the recruiting of solicitors.

Mr McDaid said the legal aid system is not perfect but he said this is the case in many other jurisdictions.