New legal protections on domestic violence require additional resources for legal aid
13 February 2017
Representatives of legal rights group FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) are at the United Nations HQ in Geneva today to raise concerns about the enforcement of women’s rights in Ireland ahead of a UN examination of the Irish government delegation on Wednesday.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hear this afternoon from a broad range of civil society organisations on how the human rights of women in Ireland are being realised. Among these, FLAC will be highlighting the need to make the State civil legal aid scheme more accessible.
“Civil legal aid is a gatekeeper right - it unlocks access to other basic rights that promote and protect women. In Ireland there are substantial barriers to this vital mechanism. At present, the means test, financial eligibility criteria and financial contribution requirements make civil legal aid inaccessible for many women. Even those who qualify for civil legal aid may face long delays in seeing a solicitor,” said FLAC Chief Executive Eilis Barry ahead of the UN briefing.
FLAC is calling for financial eligibility criteria - which have not been reviewed since 2006 - to be updated to realistic levels, so that women without sufficient means can access legal aid to enforce their rights. However the State will need to review its allocation of resources to the Legal Aid Board once the Board has completed its current review of financial eligibility criteria.
The organisation is particularly concerned that the Legal Aid Board has not yet waived its requirement for women affected by domestic violence to pay financial contributions for legal aid when seeking safety, protection and barring orders.
“We believe that requiring women affected by domestic violence to make a financial contribution for essential legal aid puts an additional and avoidable burden on them in seeking access to protection in difficult circumstances. The Legal Aid Board can and should waive this requirement and will need additional resources to do so,” added Ms Barry.
The State also needs to review resources available to the Legal Aid Board every time it introduces legislation that is likely to impact on demand for legal aid services. “If the new and welcome provisions in the recent Domestic Violence Bill are to be truly effective and enforceable, the Legal Aid Board needs to be properly resourced” said Ms Barry.
FLAC also highlighted concerns regarding the implementation of the new Public Sector Duty. Since 2014, a broad range of statutory and public sector bodies must, in carrying out their functions, have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality, and protect the human rights of employees and service users.
According to Ms Barry, this potential has yet to be fully realised. “The Public Sector Duty is a critical tool for gender mainstreaming, but government departments and public bodies are not doing enough to embed equality and human rights practices within the public sector. The Duty must be implemented to ensure that women in all their diversity are at the heart of all public action, policy and procedure,” she said.
The State delegation, led by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, will be formally examined at a full-day hearing before the UN CEDAW Committee in Geneva on Wednesday.
1. 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.
2. 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 atwww.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.
3. 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
4. FLAC’s submission to the CEDAW Committee is at http://www.flac.ie/publications/flac-cedaw-submission/
5. 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
6. The examination and the NGO session will both be live streamed (see times below). You can access the web stream at: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/
7. Timetable of events: - Note that all times are local – Geneva is one hour ahead of Irish time.
- Monday 13 Feb, 3pm-5pm CET, Room XVI, Building A, Palais des Nations: A session where a range of Irish NGOs will make spoken statements to the UN Committee on how women’s rights are being respected, protected and fulfilled on the ground. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission will also speak during this session.
- Wednesday 15 Feb, 10am-1pm CET & 3pm-5pm CET, Room XVI, Building A, Palais des Nations: Official examination of Irish government delegation by UN Committee on CEDAW. The government delegation will be led by Tánaiste and Minister for Justice & Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD.