Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, announces two major measures to assist victims of crime in 2018:
(i) €1.712 million allocated to organisations supporting victims of crime
(ii) Requirement for a financial contribution by applicants for civil legal aid in Domestic Violence cases in the District Court abolished from 1 January
28 December 2017
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan TD, has today (Thursday) announced significant supports for victims of crime in 2018. 56 organisations will be supported next year through an annual funding allocation of €1.712m. In addition, the Minister has announced his decision to remove the financial contribution required from applicants for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court. This move will take effect from 1 January 2018.
Speaking on the funding announcement, Minister Flanagan said: “The essential direct help provided by victim support services is fundamental to our overall support of victims of crime in our society. This work is of huge value and importance. I commend all of the staff and volunteers in our victim support services for their ongoing contribution in helping so many people during what is inevitably a particularly traumatic time in their lives. I am pleased to be able to provide funding of €1.712m in 2018 to fund services to victims of crime via the scheme administered by the Victims of Crime Office in my Department. This funding will be distributed to a large number of non-governmental organisations across the State in providing a wide range of supports to victims of crime. This includes the provision of essential support and information, including emotional support, court accompaniment, accompaniment to Garda interviews, accompaniment to sexual assault treatment units, counselling and referral to other services.”
Highlighting the importance of the changes to the Civil Legal Aid Regulations for victims of Domestic Violence, the Minister stated:
"The Government is committed to tackling domestic violence and supporting victims. As part of a wide range of measures, I am pleased to announce a change to the Civil Legal Aid Regulations to ensure that applicants for legal aid in cases relating to domestic violence remedies will not have to pay a contribution to their legal fees. This practical change will help ensure that victims of domestic violence feel confident about turning to the courts. I have signed the necessary Statutory Instrument enabling this change come into effect from 1 January 2018."
“I am continuing to strengthen the law in this area and Minister David Stanton and I have been working on new legislation. The Domestic Violence Bill consolidates and reforms the law on domestic violence; and includes measures around access to barring orders, protection against cross-examination conducted in person and the provision of victims’ information on domestic violence support services by the Courts Service. The Bill has been passed by the Seanad and was introduced to the Dáil earlier this month. This change shows the ongoing commitment by this Government to tackle the issue of Domestic Violence."
The Minister’s decision on civil legal aid stems from a recommendation from the Legal Aid Board. This change relates specifically to cases where an order is sought pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and, while the Board currently waives contributions in over 20% of such cases, this change removes a barrier to access to justice. The decision to approve this change also acknowledges the representations made by interested NGOs in this regard and the fact that the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women has recommended the abolition of the legal aid contribution in such cases. The Legal Aid Board is satisfied that this amendment can be accommodated within its budget allocation of €40m for 2018 - which is a 3% increase on 2017.
The Chairman of the Legal Aid Board, Philip O’Leary, has welcomed the Minister’s announcement. Mr O’Leary noted: “The Board has been concerned that where issues of domestic violence arise, there should be no barriers to seeking a Domestic Violence Order from a District Court and to the extent that a financial contribution for legal aid acts as a barrier, both the Board and I very much welcome the Minister’s decision to remove that contribution.”
The Minister concluded, “This funding provision and change to Regulations will support in a very tangible way the measures to enhance the supports for crime victims which are provided for in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act, 2017. I was pleased this legislation was enacted recently with widespread cross party support in the Oireachtas."
Note for Editors:
Funding for organisations
In 2016, the latest year for which complete figures are available, allocated funding from the Department for victims of crime support services amounted to €1.462m.
With this funding,
17,000 Victims were supported
In 57,500 Contacts or meetings
By 54 Voluntary and community sector organisations
With 564 Volunteers
And 34.6 Full time equivalent staff.
Support was provided to victims of general crime, including homicide and tourist victims of crime, victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual violence and child victims.
Funding for domestic and sexual violence services is primarily a matter for Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, under the aegis of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.
The Victims of Crime Office have been in touch with the relevant organisations in relation to the funding arrangements to apply in the context of compliance with relevant accounting procedures.
Changes to the Civil Legal Aid Regulations for victims of Domestic Violence
This change relates to removal of the contribution payable by a financially eligible applicant granted legal aid in connection with proceedings where the only remedy sought in those proceedings is an order pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act 1996.
At present, persons who are applying for civil legal aid and advice in respect of matters under the Domestic Violence Act, 1996 are required to meet both the merits test and the financial eligibility criteria under section 29 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2016. The vast majority of applicants granted legal aid and advice, including those seeking legal services in connection with domestic violence remedies, are also required to pay some contribution. The minimum amount is €30 for legal advice and a minimum of €130 applies for legal aid (which includes the advice contribution already paid). The Board has a discretionary facility to waive contributions in instances of certain circumstances – in 2016, it waived 22% of contributions in a total of 277 domestic violence cases.
The Legal Aid Board also recommended changes to the Minister around financial eligibility thresholds and other general legislative amendments. While the Department does not object in principle to these changes, further analysis of the implementation costs is required in advance of making the case for budgetary provision in the context of the Estimates process.