Government to review €150 contribution fee for domestic abuse victims
Update 1.25pm: A review of the legal aid fee for victims of domestic violence is underway, it was announced today.
The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) says the €130 fee is preventing many people in desperate situations from seeking help.
Launching the report, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said while the fee aims to ensure vexatious cases are not being taken, he is concerned about the effect it is having.
"I would be keen to have this issue reviewed, and I would be keen that there would be every availability to law by people particularly in vulnerable situations, and family law cases are always vulnerable cases," he said.
The Minister confirmed that his department is currently undertaking a review of the matter.
FLAC has also called for the legal aid board to be properly resourced after the report highlighted delays of up to 36 weeks for appointments in some areas.
Update 10.50am: Fianna Fáil Senator and Seanad Spokesperson for Justice, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, has backed calls for the minimum contribution payment towards civil legal aid when making a domestic violence related application to the District Court to be waived.
Commenting on reports this morning, the Dublin-based Senator said: “Some 11,000 incidents of domestic violence are reported in Ireland annually, yet only few result in arrest or conviction.
“Last year alone, leading charity, Women's Aid received almost 17,000 calls relating to domestic violence or abuse.
“The last Government more than doubled the minimum contribution payment from €50 to €130.
“Victims of domestic violence are required to make this payment if they wish to have legal representation through the Legal Aid Board, which puts an unbearable burden on these people at an already very sensitive time.
“The specific case highlighted this morning by Free Legal Advice Centre is just one example of how this fee can act as a barrier to many victims receiving legal representation through the Legal Aid Board and sufficient access to justice. Those who are courageous enough to walk out of their home, brave enough to get away from their abuser must be better protected by our State.
She added: “Fees when a domestic violence application is being made should be waived to guarantee legal representation for victims.”
There are calls for an end to legal aid fees for victims of domestic violence.
The Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) has said it is preventing many people in desperate situations from seeking help.
The organisation highlighted the case of one woman, who claimed that her husband held her captive the previous week and threatened that he would kill her.
She was entitled to Legal Aid to get a solicitor to represent her, but could not afford the €130 contribution fee, so she represented herself for a full Barring Order hearing.
She said that she felt "totally intimidated" and got "all tangled up" when facing her husband, who had a solicitor, in court.
She was not granted a Barring Order, and her husband was allowed back into the house. The DV Service later helped her find a place in a refuge.
Over 25,000 people got free information and advice last year - with most queries about family law, employment law, and housing.
"FLAC is concerned that people who are experiencing domestic violence and qualify for legal aid have to pay the legal aid fees, that they can apply for a waiver," said FLAC communications manager Yvonne Woods.
"However, we feel this should be automatically waived for victims of domestic violence who are seeking legal protections that are really essential for them."
Launching its 2016 Annual Report, which showed that 25,710 people received legal advice from volunteer lawyers at legal advice clinics around Ireland or from FLAC’s Telephone Information & Referral Line, FLAC chairperson Peter Ward highlighted the unwavering commitment of FLAC volunteer lawyers in legal advice clinics all over Ireland:
"Getting basic legal information and advice to people when and where they need it is the first step in ensuring access to justice," he said.
"FLAC volunteers provide this in communities all around Ireland. We are extremely grateful for the time, professionalism and expertise that they contribute, week in, week out."