The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence today announced that he has signed into law a new statutory instrument in respect of civil legal aid provided by the Legal Aid Board.  The new Regulations: 

(i)        Increase the minimum financial contribution for legal advice from €10 to €30, and from €50 to €130 in cases of legal aid
 
(ii)        Remove the financial contribution required from those receiving legal services in proceedings with the HSE on child care
 
(iii)        Reduce the existing disposable capital threshold allowance for eligibility from €320,000 to €100,000
 

The Minister said that "I intend for any funds raised by these measures to be retained by the Board to better fund the provision of services to those in need of them and reduce waiting times for those services. At a time when the State is facing significant demands on its resources an increase in contributions allows the Board to achieve its objectives without money being diverted from other programmes. The increased contributions should result in increased funding of up to €700,000 per annum being available to the Board once the increases have full impact."
 

The Minister went on to say:
 

"There has been a very significant increase in demand for civil legal aid in the last number of years and while I have sought to protect the Board's budget, waiting times for the Board's non prioritised services have increased due to a major increase in demand for services. I believe this additional resource for the Board will assist it in tackling those waiting times. I am conscious that the increase in the minimum contribution as a percentage is significant.  However I believe the contributions payable still compare favourably with other jurisdictions. Provisions remain in place to allow the contribution to be waived in hardship cases."
 

In addition the Minister said he had decided to use this opportunity to ensure a more equitable treatment of persons who are seeking civil legal aid. Accordingly, he has decided to introduce a provision that will abolish the contribution where a parent is seeking legal services from the Legal Aid Board to defend proceedings instituted by the Health Service Executive is relation to the welfare of the child. 
  

The Minister said, "I am conscious that these cases are public law matters and the parent is facing the might of the State. In those circumstances I do not believe that it remains appropriate that the parent should be obliged to make a financial contribution for their legal representation. This is as it is in most other common law jurisdictions. Taking all of this into account, the requirement to pay a contribution in these cases is being removed."
 
 
 
In addition, the Minister noted that the existing disposable capital threshold of €320,000 is significantly in excess of other countries and is difficult to justify at a time of financial hardship where the Legal Aid Board is dealing with major additional demands for services. The Minister notes in England and Wales, for example, the disposable capital threshold is less than €10,000, in Scotland less than €15,000, and in Northern Ireland less than €3,500. In Australia the capital limits differ from state to state but are typically low. The Minister said that the disposable capital threshold is therefore being reduced to €100,000 which remains generous by the standards of other countries, and in addition will not affect most applicants as an applicant's family home is not included when calculating their disposable capital.
 

ENDS
 
12 September, 2013
 


NOTE FOR EDITORS:
 

Contributions
 
(1) Contributions will continue to be 'one off' payments towards the costs of the legal service rather than ongoing payments as it often the case elsewhere. It is noteworthy in this regard that while the Board collected €830,000 in contributions last year, in the last published annual report by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (for 2011 / 2012) the actual figure for contributions received Scottish Legal Aid Board was £5,286,000 (pounds sterling). However, the Minister is of the view that given the financial hardship being experienced by many applicants for the services of the Board it would not be appropriate, at this time, to require ongoing contributions as opposed to a once off payment.
 


(2) All asylum seekers in receipt of civil legal services for asylum related matters will now pay a once-off contribution of €10 as opposed to €6 at present.
 

Disposable Capital
 
The value of the applicant’s home is excluded in determining disposable capital. This is regardless of what it is worth. ‘Disposable capital’ is based on the value of an applicant’s remaining capital resources. Where the capital resource includes farm land the value of the family home is excluded. In relation to any other property the full amount of any charge, mortgage, loan or other debt outstanding on it is excluded. Thus a second property that is in negative equity has no capital value for the purpose of establishing disposable capital. The notional expense in disposing of an asset is deducted from its value in order to establish its true disposable value for the purpose of the assessment.
 

Legal Aid and Legal Advice
 
Legal advice means the provision of oral or written advice by a solicitor or barrister engaged by the Board on the application of Irish law to any particular set of circumstances and on any steps that person might take having regard to the application of the law to those circumstances.
 

Legal aid means representation by a solicitor of the Board or a solicitor or barrister engaged by the Board in civil proceedings before the District, Circuit, High or Supreme Courts. It also includes representation before the European Court of Justice and furthermore any other Tribunal or Court prescribed by the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The Refugee Appeals Tribunal is a Tribunal so prescribed. No other Tribunals or Courts have been prescribed though the civil legal aid legislation has recently been amended to enable representation before the Coroner’s Court in certain circumstances.
 

The Board does not at the moment have reliable information in relation to the number of cases that involve ‘advice only’. On the face of it the majority of persons w ho apply for legal services from the Board are involved in or proceed to a court hearing and obtain a legal aid certificate for the purpose of representation in court. The Board is promoting the use of non court based dispute resolution alternatives where possible. The Board took responsibility for the Family Mediation Service in November 2011 and it is at the moment seeking to improve the synergies between persons seeking legal services in relation to family problems and the availability of mediation to address those problems. It is notable in this regard that the Board’s mediation services remain free of charge and the Board wants to see more of its clients resolving their family problems with the assistance of a mediator rather than through a court process.
 

Finances and New Cases Handled
 

Year 

2011 

2010 

2009 

2008 

Amount spent

€37.06m 

€37.35m 

€40.5m 

€40.7m 

New cases handled 

13,347 

13,796 

13,550 

12,681



The figures above simply give the number of new cases handled in the year. Large numbers of cases are carried over beyond one year and while some cases can be brief and involve no more than the giving of legal advice, others can involve protracted and complex court proceedings.
 

The Board’s grant in aid for 2013 is €32.659m and it is anticipated that with other income, including a carry-over of €1.43m, its total budget for the year will be €36.5m. Since 2012 the budget includes the expenditure on the family mediation scheme. In terms of expenditure for 2013 the Board anticipates that it will spend a significant portion of what it carried over into 2013.