2 November 2011 

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence today announced the formal integration of the Family Mediation Service with the Legal Aid Board.
 

Minister Shatter signed the Commencement Order last week for Part 16 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 with yesterday being the appointed day for the formal transfer of the Family Mediation Service (FMS) to the Legal Aid Board. The functions of the Legal Aid Board have been extended under the Act to include a family mediation service.
 

Announcing the transfer Minister Shatter said "This is a particularly significant development and evolution of family related services in Ireland. It has long been evident to me that mediation in many family law cases offers a better route and outcome for the parties than the adversarial environment of the courts. I am therefore delighted to have been able to drive reform and modernisation in this critical area and to put in place a process and structure which facilitates a coherent and integrated approach to resolving certain family law disputes. As I said in the Dáil in July last 'greater connectivity between the Legal Aid Board and the Mediation Service will result in many more estranged couples or parents using the service, especially dealing initially with custody and access disputes many of which could be readily resolved in mediation but unnecessarily end up with hearings in the District Court.'
 

The formal transfer of responsibility for the FMS to the Board that took place yesterday will build on the initiatives already in place. I am referring, in particular, to the integrated family mediation initiative in the family law courts located in Dolphin House Dublin which I formally launched earlier this year. This initiative involves co-location and collaboration between the Board, the FMS and the Courts Service and I envisage that this cooperative approach will be extended elsewhere across the country in due course."
 

The Minister also observed that "Other potential benefits to the transfer include reducing the  demand for legal aid and court time, better establish the status of legal agreements and provide economies in the use of premises through co-location with law centres or courts, where possible."
 

The Minister reiterated his intention to publish a comprehensive Mediation and Conciliation Bill in the near future and which will provide for a better operation of alternative dispute mechanisms in our legal system. This will extend much more widely than family law.
 


Ends
 
Note to Editor
 

Legal Aid Board - Background Briefing
 

1.        Function and purpose
The Legal Aid Board is the statutory, independent body responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to persons of modest means, in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Legal Aid Act, 1995.
 

Legal advice is any oral or written advice given by a solicitor or barrister, including writing letters and negotiations.
 

Legal aid is representation by a solicitor or barrister in court proceedings.  A person must first obtain a legal aid certificate, which specifies the legal services being granted, and must pay the legal aid contribution specified on the certificate. 
  
Legal services are provided across a wide range of civil law matters.
 

2.        Service provision
 
Legal aid and advice are provided primarily through a network of law centres by solicitors employed by the Board.  A complementary service is provided by solicitors in private practice who are engaged by the Board on a case-by-case basis.
 

The service is provided on a nationwide basis through 29 full-time and 12 part-time law centres, and also incorporates the Refugee Legal Service (RLS) and a small number of other specialist units. 
  

The Board also operates a specialised Refugee Documentation Centre, which provides an independent and professional research and library service for all of the main bodies involved in the asylum process.
 

3.        Obtaining legal services
A person seeking legal services must apply to a law centre and must complete an application form, stating the subject matter on which legal advice and/or aid is sought and giving details of income and any capital resources.
 

The Board seeks to ensure that a person who qualifies for legal services will be offered an appointment with a solicitor within a maximum period of 4 months from the time the application is completed.  In certain cases, a priority service is provided. Such cases can include domestic violence, child abduction, cases involving applications by the State to take children into care, and cases that have statutory time limits close to expiry.
 

4.        Payment for legal services
 
All persons who are granted legal advice and/or legal aid are required to pay a contribution to the Board.  The legal advice contribution is assessed on the applicant’s disposable income, i.e. income after certain deductions.  The legal aid contribution is assessed on the applicant’s disposable income and disposable capital.  The minimum contribution is €10 for legal advice and €50 for legal aid.  The law centre advises a person of the actual contribution in each individual case.  In the event that a person recovers money or property arising from the case, the Board may seek to recover the cost to the Board of providing legal services to the client.
 

5.        Funding
 
Funding for the Legal Aid Board in the period 2008-2011 has been as follows:
 

€m 

Civil Legal Aid 

RLS 

Total 

2009 

26.310 

8.330 

34.640 

2010 

24.225 

7.967 

32.192 

2011 

24.125 

6.445 

30.570



6.        Demand for services
 
Applications for civil legal aid have increased significantly in recent years, as can be seen in the table below. Applications for legal services increased from just over 10,100 in 2007 to 17,200 in 2010, which represents a 70% increase approximately. At the same time, applications to the Refugee Legal Service have fallen in line with the falling number of asylum claims made in the jurisdiction.
 

Year 

2010 

2009 

2008 

2007 

Law centres 

17,175 

14,073 

11,888 

10,164 

Refugee Legal Service 

1,448 

2,298 

  3,219 

2,650 

Total 

18,623 

16,371 

15,107 

12,814




Family Mediation Service
 
The main features of the Family Mediation Service are as follows:
 

a)        The FMS is a free professional and confidential service for couples, married and non-married, who have decided to separate or divorce and who together want to negotiate the terms of their separation or divorce;
 

b)        Mediation helps parties  reach an agreement that meets their interests and those of their children; and 
  

c)        The FMS also deals with a small number of cases which involve conflict between other members of a family (e.g. parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren on issues such as wills).
The FMS budget for 2011 is €2.948m.
 

Location and Structure of FMS Services
 
The FMS currently has 12 part-time and four full time offices, details of which are set out in the table below. The FMS is divided into four regions as follows:
 

Eastern Region: Dundalk, Blanchardstown, Dublin, Raheny
Mid-west region: Limerick, Athlone, Tallaght, Portlaoise
Western Region: Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar, Galway
Southern Region:  Cork, Waterford, Wexford, Tralee 
  

Location of FMS Offices 

Full-time 

Part-time 

Galway 
Limerick
 
Cork
 
Dublin (St Stephen’s Green)
 

Athlone 
Castlebar
 
Letterkenny
 
Portlaoise
Dundalk
 
Blanchardstown (Dublin)
 
Raheny (Dublin)
 
Wexford
 
Waterford
 
Tralee
 
Tallaght (Dublin)
 
Sligo