Legal Aid Board chair Philip O’Leary has welcomed the publication of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality Report on reform of the family law system.

The report makes 38 recommendations in total, including giving urgent priority to promised legislation for the establishment of a dedicated and integrated family court within existing court structures.

The report also recommends a full review of legal aid on means test rates, contribution requirements and eligibility and says that the current threshold for legal aid needs to be raised significantly.

Access

Family law covers divorce and separation, child custody and access arrangements, child maintenance, as well as children being taken into State care.

Philip O’Leary said “Over half of all applications for civil legal aid relate to family law, and our solicitors see every day the issues highlighted in this report.

“I support the findings of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality Report on Reform of the Family Justice System.”

He said he welcomed the Justice minister Charlie Flanagan’s commitment to shortly bring forward legislation in relation to the establishment of a family court.

“The Legal Aid Board will do what it can to assist in addressing the various issues highlighted in the report and in this regard, it will pro-actively work with other stake-holders,” he said.

Limited means

The Legal Aid Board provides legal services to those of limited means. to those of limited means.  A potential client must pass a principle test, a merits test, and a means test and have a disposable income of less than €18,000, as well as a disposable capital of less than €100,000, though the family home is not considered under this heading.

Unlike criminal legal aid, civil legal aid is not free.  Those who qualify for legal aid will be required to pay a contribution for advice or representation based on their means test, though this contribution may be waived in certain circumstances.

Philip O’Leary continued: “I note the recommendation that a full review of the legal aid scheme be conducted with particular regard to means test rates, contribution requirements and eligibility.

Submission

“The Legal Aid Board made a detailed submission on these matters for the Department of Justice and Equality.  I understand that there are no plans at present to amend the eligibility and contribution thresholds but we will assist the Minister and his Department in any further review that may be undertaken.”

In 2018 there were 18,248 new applications for civil legal aid to law centres which was an increase of just under 7% on the number of applications in 2017, excluding applications on foot of the Abhaile Scheme.

Contribution

The minimum contribution is €30 for legal advice and €130 for legal aid. There is no charge for mediation services.

Family mediation services are also provided in certain courthouses in conjunction with family law sittings.

 

Philip O’Leary is a Banking Partner at FitzGerald Legal & Advisory, 6 Lapps Quay, Cork.  

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