‘Free’ legal aid court fee of €130 too expensive for some

Limerick family courts hears how some can not afford legal aid

Limerick Courthouse. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Limerick Courthouse. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons


Some people appearing before Limerick district family court cannot afford “free” legal aid, Judge Mary Larkin said yesterday.

The judge, who had more than 50 cases before her in Limerick Courthouse, said she was “very well aware of the legal aid contribution” required by the Legal Aid Board.

The board manages civil legal aid for people on low incomes. It requires a minimum contribution of €130 if someone is to be represented in court. For people with an annual disposable income of over €11,500 the charge is higher.

In one case, a man was asked to contribute €227. In another, the judge was told an adjournment had been given in an access and maintenance application to allow a father to obtain legal aid, but he returned to court without it. “I couldn’t afford the €130,” he said.

Judge Larkin gave the man, and others during the day, information on Limerick Community Law and Mediation Centre. The centre could not represent people in court but provided free legal advice, she explained.

“I’ve asked a lot of people to go there because they can’t afford the contribution,” she said.

The judge also told the court she would try to limit her cases from now on to 35 a day, which was “still more than they are expected to do in Dublin”.

‘Several digs’

Among the many cases before her, a man sought a safety order against his brother. He said he had given him “several digs in the head” earlier this month. And on another occasion, the man said his brother had split his head with a hurley. He told Judge Larkin he called the gardaí on several occasions but did not press charges.

The judge, noting the man’s brother was not in court, granted the safety order, which requires a named person not to use or threaten to use violence against an individual.

In another case, a mother sought a safety order against her daughter who, she said, had threatened to stick her head in the sink and had put her fist up to her face. The judge said she was surprised the daughter had not attended court. She granted the order for five years.

In a case involving access to a young child, the judge noted the mother had left the father’s home country to take the child on holiday to Ireland and refused to return.

The father was entitled to have his case heard in his home country under the Hague Convention, an international agreement on child abduction, but he didn’t proceed because threats were made against him.

The judge said she recalled from a previous court hearing that an email had been sent by the child’s Irish grandfather saying he was a friend of a named politician and would “arrange a revenue audit” for the father.

A solicitor for the mother said his client could not be held responsible for emails her father sent.

The judge ruled the child’s father should be allowed to see his young child every day while he was in Ireland and the child would be old enough to travel to his home at Christmas from next year. It would also be acceptable for the father to take the child out of the country for a holiday while he was visiting Ireland. The child had “two international parents and should enjoy the benefit of it”.