31. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is satisfied that the increases to the funding for civil legal aid as provided for in budget 2019 will address the concerns articulated by the Chief Justice about the need to reform the eligibility criteria for civil legal aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42339/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): The Government has prioritised and maintained the Legal Aid Board budget in recent years, ensuring that its budget allocation increased from nearly €30.37m in 2011 to €40.796m for 2019. This represents an increase of over 34%.
Ensuring that all eligible persons have access to civil legal aid and advice is a priority for the Board and the Government.
Applicants for civil legal aid must meet a financial test based on their disposable income and capital assets. In addition, applicants are required to meet a merits test which is provided for in the Act. The merits test includes such criteria as likelihood of success, the legal basis for taking or defending proceedings, and, in some but not all case types, the costs and benefit associated with pursuing the matter in question by means of civil litigation.
The Board has a policy role in relation to the provision of civil legal aid and periodically reviews the scheme's operation. In 2017, the Board submitted a number of proposals to my Department in relation to the financial eligibility thresholds and other general legislative amendments including removal of contributions sought from victims of domestic violence. My Department progressed this latter element of the proposal separately and from 1 January 2018, a contribution is no longer required of persons granted legal aid in connection with proceedings where the sole remedy is an order pursuant to the Domestic Violence Act 1996. Statutory Instrument 626 of 2017 gave effect to this. Both the Board and my Department are actively working on the remaining elements of the submission which require further detailed analysis.