Cuts to legal aid for family law cases deferred

Deferral to allow time to re-examine alternative options, says Legal Aid Board

Tanya Ward, chief executive of Children’s Rights Alliance: criticised proposed cuts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Tanya Ward, chief executive of Children’s Rights Alliance: criticised proposed cuts. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Legal Aid Board has deferred plans to cut legal aid in family law cases at the District Court.

The organisation announced on Friday it had taken on board the feedback and concerns expressed about the proposed cuts and decided they would not come into effect next Monday, as had been planned.

The board refers approximately 500 cases a month to a panel of private solicitors for advice and representation in family law matters such as access, custody, guardianship and maintenance.

It announced earlier this week it would be unable to continue those referrals, except in priority cases involving “a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance”. The cuts were being made for budgetary reasons. Families seeking legal remedies would have to rely on the board’s in-house legal aid services for advice and representation, which would increase waiting times in the system.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, the chief executive of the board, John McDaid, said the restrictions were being deferred and the criteria in relation to the availability of legal aid certificates in family law cases at the District Court would remain as they are at the moment.

“The deferral is to allow time to re-examine alternative options,” he said.

“It remains the board’s wish to reduce the numbers waiting for its services and to explore all avenues that will enable it to do so.”

The cuts had been widely criticised by charities and lawyers organisations. The Children’s Rights Alliance had said the cuts would inevitably increase waiting times and delay families getting access to legal advice and remedies in very serious family law situations.

Reacting to news of the deferral, the Council of The Bar of Ireland said it welcomed the decision. Its chairman, Paul McGarry SC, said the council was pleased the Legal Aid Board had heeded its warnings that the planned changes to the family law services would have severely impacted the most vulnerable members of society.

“People eligible for legal aid [who are] dealing with the most sensitive of family law matters, including access, custody, guardianship and maintenance orders, cannot be expected to join waiting lists rather than access the necessary legal supports in a timely manner, as is facilitated by the private practitioner scheme,” he said. “While we welcome today’s decision, we are calling on the Minister for Justice and Equality [Charlie Flanagan] to ensure the appropriate funding is afforded to the Legal Aid Board to ensure the protection of the private practitioner scheme going forward.”