Failure to end domestic abuse legal fees criticised

The Government’s “failure” to provide sufficient funding to abolish civil legal aid fees for victims of domestic violence, has been criticised.

The Law Society of Ireland joined the Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) in highlighting the additional trauma facing such victims when accessing justice.

They point out that some advice centres, including Cork South Mall and Tallaght, have waiting lists of 32 weeks for a first consultation.

Keith Walsh, chairman of the Law Society’s family and child law committee said Budget 2018 had failed to allocate the funding for the abolition of civil legal aid fees for victims of domestic violence.

“We have long been advocating for increasing access to justice through providing greater access to civil legal aid,” he said.

“In tandem, we have long sought a review of the means test to permit more people to become eligible for civil legal aid.”

Mr Walsh said: “The Government’s position does not move towards addressing the United Nations’ recommendations to the Irish Government on legal aid contributions in domestic violence cases.”

Earlier this year, the UN CEDAW Committee recommended that Ireland end the requirement for such victims to make financial contributions for civil legal aid when seeking court protection.

Flac said it had long campaigned for civil legal aid fees to be automatically waived for victims of domestic violence when seeking safety, protection or barring orders. It said it had also campaigned for sufficient funding to allow it deal with waiting times for legal aid.

However, it said the 3% increase in funding to the Legal Aid Board in Budget 2018, compared to a 12% increase in 2017, would not enable it to deal with either matter.

“These figures are disappointing,” said Flac CEO Eilis Barry.

“We had hoped that the Legal Aid Board would be sufficiently resourced to allow for the abolition of the requirement on victims of domestic violence to pay a charge for legal aid.

“We are concerned that the 3% increase will not allow the abolition of legal aid fees in domestic violence cases.”

She said they were concerned that the allocation will not have any significant impact on the waiting list.

Ms Barry said, at the launch of their annual report last July, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan had stated he was keen to have the issue reviewed.

She added that his predecessor, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, also favoured a review and that she had estimated the cost of removing the financial contribution at around €138,000.

Civil legal aid, while subsidised, is not free, even in cases involving domestic violence victims, who have to pay a minimum of €130 for legal aid.

Flac described this payment as an “unnecessary additional barrier” to those seeking legal supports to escape violence and access protection and justice.

In his budget statement, Mr Flanagan said the €1.25m funding for the Legal Aid Board would “build on the budgetary increases in recent years” to continue to reduce the waiting list and consolidate services across a number of areas, including the Abhaile Scheme for persons in mortgage arrears.

He said the funding also provided for pay increases.

Mr Walsh of the Law Society said the lengthy waiting lists for legal aid was a major problem.

“We have serious concerns about the waiting times for consultations in law centres,” he said.

“In terms of waiting times, the applicant first has to go through a very detailed process of being vetted to ensure they are entitled to legal aid - only then do they go on the waiting list.”


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