Legal aid payment from domestic abuse victims to end

Bill to abolish fees from January 1st for aid applications in domestic violence cases

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced an increase in funding for victims of crime. Photograph: Eric Luke

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan announced an increase in funding for victims of crime. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Victims of domestic violence who seek civil legal aid will no longer have to pay a contribution to their legal fees from January 2018, the Minister for Justice has said.

Charlie Flanagan announced the abolition of fees for applicants for legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court as part of changes under the Domestic Violence Bill. The move will take effect from January 1st .

He said the change to the civil legal aid regulations would help victims of domestic violence feel more confident about turning to the courts for support.

“The Domestic Violence Bill consolidates and reforms the law on domestic violence; and includes measures around access to barring orders, protection against cross-examination conducted in person and the provision of victims’ information on domestic violence support services by the Courts Service,” said Mr Flanagan.

At present, any person who applies for civil legal aid and advice regarding domestic abuse must meet both the merits test and the financial eligibility criteria. Applicants must also pay a contribution to the legal aid; the minimum amount is €30 for legal advice and €130 for legal aid (including advice contribution already paid). In certain circumstances this contribution can be waived by the Legal Aid Board.

The board has also called for changes in financial eligibility thresholds.

‘Scourge’

The Domestic Violence Bill 2017 has been passed by the Seanad and was introduced in the Dáil earlier this month. Speaking on December 15th, Mr Flanagan said the Bill was part of a larger package of measures aimed at dealing with “the scourge of domestic violence in our community”.

He said the Bill included provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.

Legal Aid Board chairman Philip O’Leary welcomed the Minister’s announcement and underlined the importance of removing all barriers for those seeking a domestic violence order from a District Court.

Mr Flanagan announced in November that psychological abuse and controlling behaviour within a relationship would become a crime punishable by up to five years under the new Bill. The offence of “coercive control” will allow prosecutions of people who create an ongoing threatening atmosphere within a relationship, even in the absence of violence or overt threats of violence.

The Minister also announced on Thursday an increase in funding for victims of crime, with €1.712 million to be set aside for NGOs providing victim-support services. These services will include the provision of support and information, emotional support, court accompaniment, accompaniment to Garda interviews, accompaniment to sexual assault treatment units, counselling and referral to other services.

“The essential direct help provided by victim-support services is fundamental to our overall support of victims of crime in our society,” said Mr Flanagan. “This work is of huge value and importance. I commend all of the staff and volunteers in our victim-support services for their ongoing contribution in helping so many people during what is inevitably a particularly traumatic time in their lives.”

In 2016, €1.462 was allocated to support services for victims of crime.