Family law aid cut will hit those most in need, says Bar Council

‘We have a duty to ensure that access to justice is delivered to all members of society’

The Legal Aid Board has said it will restrict applications for legal aid to cases involving “a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance”.

The Legal Aid Board has said it will restrict applications for legal aid to cases involving “a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance”.

 

A decision by the Legal Aid Board to restrict access to legal representation in District Court family law cases will “very negatively impact on those most in need of assistance”, the Council of the Bar of Ireland has said.

The Legal Aid Board has said it will restrict applications for legal aid to cases involving “a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance”, for budgetary reasons.

Referrals to the District Court family law private practitioners’ panel, used to complement the service provided by law centres, will be cut and cases will be handled by in-house lawyers.

Bar Council chairman Paul McGarry said the unilateral decision to cut referrals to the family law panel was “alarming in the extreme” and could have very serious consequences.

“We have a duty to ensure that access to justice is delivered in a timely matter to all members of society and especially to the most vulnerable, there is no justification for this decision by the Legal Aid Board and it must be immediately reversed,” he said.

Former chairman of the Family Lawyers’ Association, Seán O hUallacháin SC, said delays in dealing with access, guardianship and custody matters raise serious child protection concerns and could potentially impinge on parental and child constitutional rights. He said the cut “seems like a very rough budgetary adjustment”.

“It was done in a summary manner without proper consultation and, in our view, without taking into account the vulnerability of a lot of people in the District Court system,” he said.

Speaking earlier this week, chief executive of the board, John McDaid said he did not particularly welcome the restrictions.

“I’d prefer not to have to put them in place. I fully realise that they will have an impact and not one that I want,” he said.

“We will be keeping the restrictions under review and if the financial prognosis gets better or we can find resources elsewhere we can look at relaxing these measures.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice on Wednesday said the Legal Aid Board received an increased allocation of €4.15 million in Budget 2017, which represented a 10.5 per cent rise on the allocation for last year.

“While the prioritisation of services within the available funding is an operational matter for the Legal Aid Board, the Department works closely with the Board to ensure that the annual budgetary provision is considered in the context of the Estimates process,” he added.