Call for abolition of legal fees in domestic violence cases grows

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A south Dublin Fine Gael TD has voiced her support for the Law Society of Ireland statement calling for the abolition of legal fees in domestic violence cases.

Dublin Rathdown TD Joseph Madigan said while more work needs to be done for victims of domestic violence, abolishing legal fees required to access legal aid in domestic violence cases would be a big step forward.

The Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC) annual report published yesterday also said people who experience domestic violence should not have to contribute to the cost of civil legal aid when they apply for court protection,

FLAC says the Legal Aid Board, which provides subsidised civil legal aid, should not seek contributions towards legal representation for applicants seeking safety, protection or barring orders.

Deputy Madigan said:

“Domestic violence affects far too many in Ireland. Over 16,000 incidents of domestic violence were disclosed to Women’s Aid in 2015 alone.

“Fine Gael in Government has been proactive in tackling domestic violence.

“Earlier this year, we published the Domestic Violence Bill which is designed to make the court process easier for victims and will be a major step to implementing the integrated policies called for in the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention.”

To qualify for civil legal aid, a person must have a disposable income of less than €18,000.

Applicants must contribute up to €150 for legal advice and a minimum of €130 for legal representation. This can rise to €1,755, depending on the means of the applicant. The board can waive the contribution if paying it would cause undue hardship.

Last March the UN specifically recommended that Ireland end the requirement for victims of domestic violence to make the contributions.

Deputy Madigan added:

“Nonetheless, more work needs to be done to best serve victims of domestic violence.

“We need to do everything we can to assist victims of domestic violence and to protect the vulnerable.

“The abolition of the legal fee required to access legal aid in domestic violence cases would be an important step forward.”

Speaking yesterday following publication of their report, FLAC chief executive Eilis Barry said civil legal aid fees should be automatically waived for victims of domestic violence when seeking safety, protection, or barring orders.

“The UN has now followed this on July 14 with a general comment urging states to ensure access to ‘financial aid and free or low-cost high- quality legal aid”

“The Law Society of Ireland has also echoed our call to drop these charges.

“We are hopeful the minister and the Legal Aid Board will heed these calls and remove this financial barrier for victims seeking crucial legal protections.”

She said the numbers seeking advice last year demonstrated an acute need for legal advice and aid.

She also welcomed the announcement of the Legal Aid Board to defer its decision to restrict referrals to the district court family law private practitioners to priority matters — domestic violence and enforcement of maintenance, but not access, custody or guardianship.

 Flac runs a network of free legal advice clinics across the country as well as a phone information line.