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Use of private solicitors by Legal Aid Board up by 20%

15 Oct 2019 / justice Print

Use of private solicitors by Legal Aid Board up by 20%

The numbers waiting for civil legal aid has fallen for the fifth successive year.

The Legal Aid Board’s annual report shows that 1,754 people were waiting for legal services at the end of 2018, down from over 5,000 in 2013. 

A triage system prioritises urgent needs, with 30% of first appointments in 2018 for such cases relating to matters such as domestic violence, child abduction, and applications by the State to take children into care.

Cases with statutory time limits close to expiry also fall under this category.

Increase

The Legal Aid Board’s law centre network handled 17,803 cases in 2018, an increase of over 600 on 2017. A total of 18,248 applications sought civil legal aid, but not all applicants pursued their matter, and not everyone is provided with legal services.

The Legal Aid Board dealt with 5,326 cases in relation to divorce and 3,604 on separation. There were 1,823 cases in relation to child law matters.

Maintenance issues were the basis for 429 cases, with a further 421 in maintenance or access recovery.

Cohabitant relief was the subject of 270 cases, while success matters accounted for 194 cases. Employment law was the subject of 76 cases, and contracts the reason for 57 cases.

Civil partnership dissolution

The dissolution of a civil partnership was the subject of 20 cases.

Legal aid services are subject to a fee, assessed on the basis of the applicant’s disposable income. The minimum contribution is €30 for legal advice, and €130 for legal aid.

The vast majority of applicants – 84% – were seeking assistance in relation to a family law matter.

Law centres

Private solicitors are also engaged to complement the service provided by law centres. 

In 2018, a total of 10,197 cases were referred to private solicitors – an increase of 640 on 2017. 

Private solicitors are paid on a fee-per-case basis, and are used primarily for private family law matters in the District Court, and for international protection matters, as well as for the Abhaile scheme.

In 2018, there was a 19% increase (to 7,154) in the use of private solicitors for disputes in the District Family Court.

Private solicitors are used to a lesser extent in divorce and separation cases in the Circuit Court – there were 63 such cases last year.

Private solicitors are also used to represent parents in applications by the Child and Family Agency to have children taken into its care, with 94 referrals made in counties Dublin, Donegal and Wexford.

Private solicitors were used for 782 Abhaile consultations, with legal-advice vouchers issued by MABS, and for 1,479 international protection matters.

A total of 493 ‘duty solicitor’ days were rostered in 2018.

Fees

Fees paid to private solicitors for private District Court family law cases are generally 10-15% of the fee payable for Circuit Court cases.

The Legal Aid Board handled a total of 24,219 applications in 2018, of which 16,169 were for civil legal aid, 2,079 were for international protection and 1,407 for the Abhaile scheme.

A total of 4,564 applied for family mediation services.

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan noted the Legal Aid Board’s work on family mediation and its increased integration with legal-aid services since 2011.

In future, offices for legal-aid services and mediation will be co-located, with the first of these opening on 20 June in Portlaoise.

Mediation

In 2018, a total of 2,282 new cases were dealt with by mediation, and there were 1,218 mediated agreements. 

The Abhaile scheme of financial and legal assistance for those in danger of having their homes repossessed has negotiated on behalf of 12,000 households since it was set up in 2016.

The Legal Aid Board has been allocated €42.2 million for 2020, an increase of 3%, which includes €1 million to continue the Abhaile Scheme for mortgage arrears.

The numbers applying under the Abhaile scheme are down from 1,933 in 2017 to 782 in 2018.

Insolvency

The number of legal-aid certificates granted to have proposed personal insolvency applications approved by the courts rose from 469 in 2017 to 625 in 2018.

While the courts, through the judiciary, grant legal aid in criminal cases, the Legal Aid Board is currently responsible for three of the five criminal legal-aid schemes. 

These are:

  • The Garda Station Legal Advice Revised Scheme (4,307 applications valued at €1,548,400),
  • The Legal Aid – Custody Issues Scheme,
  • The Criminal Assets Bureau Ad-hoc Legal Aid Scheme (valued at €147,000 in 2018).

In 2018, the Legal Aid Board processed 4,679 claims under these three schemes.

Medical negligence

There are 30 full-time and 12 part-time law centres. Dedicated units in Dublin deal with both personal injury and medical-negligence cases.

The board also operates a specialised Refugee Documentation Centre, which provides a research and library service for all of the main bodies involved in the international protection process.

Of the 2,079 international protection claims in 2018, a total of 225 came from Zimbabwe, 218 came from Georgia, 214 from Albania, 208 from Pakistan, and 131 from Nigeria.

Applicants came from over 90 countries in total.

 

The numbers seeking services in relation to international protection matters rose from 1,357 to 2,079.

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