Legal aid in domestic cases to be cut due to budget constraints
Board in funding talks with Department of Justice amid ‘unprecedented move’
Those who apply for legal aid at the Legal Aid Board’s Dolphin House office in Dublin will only have their applications processed if it involves proceedings for ‘a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance’.
The Legal Aid Board will from Monday “regretfully” restrict access to legal representation in District Court family law cases to “priority matters” because of budgetary constraints.
There have been Opposition calls for Government to increase funding to ensure vulnerable people get legal advice and representation in court for cases involving access, maintenance, custody and guardianship.
However, those who apply for legal aid at the Legal Aid Board’s Dolphin House office in Dublin will only have their applications processed at that office if the application involves bringing or defending proceedings for “a domestic violence remedy or enforcement of maintenance”.
The Legal Aid Board’s chief executive John McDaid said the Legal Aid Board would redouble efforts to encourage people into mediation, although that would not be suitable for all cases.
“I don’t particularly welcome these 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.”
Mr McDaid said the Legal Aid Board had an “ongoing dialogue” with the Department of Justice about resources. The board was 93 per cent funded by the Department, with the rest coming from client contributions and cost recoveries, he said.
Fianna Fáil Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee, who is a solicitor on the panel, said the Legal Aid Board needed increased funding as a matter of urgency.
“This represents an unprecedented move to restrict access to legal representation to our most vulnerable citizens in sensitive, delicate family law matters involving children,” she said.
“In a time where we hear Government Ministers talking about tax cuts, they’re not providing the Legal Aid Board with enough funding to ensure people get legal advice and representation in court.”
Ms Clifford-Lee said in some cases this could mean the best interests of children were not protected.
“These type of proceedings can be very stressful and upsetting and without legal representation, particularly if a former partner can afford to pay for legal representation privately. The Minister [FOR JUSTICE]really needs to address this urgently.”
A spokesman for the Department of Justice 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 2016 allocation.
“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.