No funds allocated for abolition of civil legal aid fees for victims of domestic violence in Budget 2018
10 October 2017
The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) has long campaigned for civil legal aid fees to be automatically waived for victims of domestic violence when seeking safety, protection or barring orders. It had also campaigned for a comprehensive and realistic review of the budgetary requirements of the Legal Aid Board so that it could deal with the waiting times for legal aid. It had hoped that these issues would be addressed in Budget 2018.
However, the Legal Aid Board has received an increase of just over 3%, in comparison to last year when the Legal Aid Board received an increase of 12%.
“These figures are disappointing. We had hoped that the Legal Aid Board would be sufficiently resourced to allow for the abolition of the requirement on victims of Domestic violence to pay a charge for legal aid. We are concerned that the 3% increase will not allow the abolition of legal aid fees in Domestic violence cases. We are further concerned that the allocation will not have any significant impact on the waiting list”, said FLAC CEO Eilis Barry.
At FLAC’s Annual Report Launch in July, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan had stated that he was keen to have this issue reviewed. The Tánaiste had also previously indicated that she was in favour of having it reviewed. In April 2017, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald, estimated that the annual cost of waiving financial contributions for both applicants and respondents in proceedings where the sole application before the court is for an order under the Domestic Violence Acts in 2016 would have been €138,000.
Civil legal aid, while subsidised, is not free, even in cases of domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence have to pay a minimum of €130 for legal aid. It is FLAC’s view that the requirement for financial contributions in cases of domestic violence creates an unnecessary additional barrier for those seeking the necessary legal supports to escape violence and access protection and justice.
Earlier this year, the UN CEDAW Committee specifically recommended that Ireland end the requirement for victims of domestic violence to make financial contributions for civil legal aid when seeking court protection. Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, The Law Society of Ireland and Women’s Aid have also echoed our call to drop these charges.
In addition excessive delays continue to exist in some Legal Aid Board law centres with the longest waiting times for an initial consultation at 32 weeks in Athlone and 29 weeks in Blanchardstown.
- FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is a human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice for all. As an NGO, FLAC relies on a combination of statutory funding, contributions from the legal professions and donations from individuals and grant-making foundations to support its work.
- FLAC offers basic legal information through its telephone information line (1890 350 250) and free legal advice through its network of 80 volunteer evening advice centres – more at www.flac.ie/help/. It also campaigns on a range of issues including consumer credit, personal debt, fairness in social welfare law, public interest law and civil legal aid. FLAC has issued numerous analyses and policy statements calling for a fairer mortgage arrears resolution process.
- 237 people contacted FLAC’s information line with domestic violence queries in 2016, while 398 people attended FLAC advice clinics, which are run in conjunction with Citizen Information Centres, in relation to domestic violence.
- The Legal Aid Board’s waiting time statistics for August 2017 can be found on their website at: https://www.legalaidboard.ie/en/Our-Services/Legal-Aid-Services/Waiting-times/Management-Information-Aug-2017-Website.pdf
- You can read the UN CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Observations at http://bit.ly/CEDAWconobs2017
- The UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. It defines discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination where it exists. Ireland acceded to the Convention in 1985 and to the Optional Protocol in 2000 and is obliged to report to the UN Committee on CEDAW at regular intervals. The examination underway next week is based on a combined 6th & 7th periodic report from Ireland. You can read more including Ireland’s state reports at http://www.genderequality.ie/en/GE/Pages/CEDAW
- FLAC’s submission to the CEDAW Committee (Dec 2016) is at http://www.flac.ie/publications/flac-cedaw-submission/
- An Irish civil society Shadow Report prepared by the National Women’s Council of Ireland , to which FLAC contributed recommendations, in advance of Ireland’s examination under the CEDAW is at: http://www.nwci.ie/images/uploads/NWCI_CEDAW_SHADOW_REPORT_2017.pdf
- Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, found that while legal aid is technically available to victims of domestic violence, the requirement to pay financial contributions hampers access to justice. He called on the State to improve access for women victims of violence to legal aid. Report by Nils Muiznieks following his visit to Ireland from 22 to 25 November 2016, Strasbourg: CoE, p.15.
- The Law Society’s press release supporting FLAC’s call for abolition of legal aid fees in domestic violence cases; https://www.lawsociety.ie/News/Media/Press-Releases/law-society-calls-for-abolition-of-legal-aid-fees-in-domestic-violence-cases-and-outlines-how-to-better-protect-vulnerable/