Dundalk District Court
WOMEN'S Aid Dundalk has welcomed the decision by the Minister for Justice to abolish the financial contribution requirement for civil legal aid for people affected by domestic violence in the District Court from January 1.
Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC), the Law Society, and a number of domestic and international human rights groups had been campaigning for some time for its abolition.
“It's been a long time coming. It will be a huge benefit to women and children in the Dundalk area affected by domestic abuse,” said Women's Aid Dundalk spokesperson Ann Larkin.
“The financial contribution was a significant barrier to people seeking legal representation. There is a massive demand for a range of services offered in Louth because domestic violence is still a widespread issue.
“In 2016 we had 295 requests for refuge accommodation that we couldn't cater for. Currently, we can offer accommodation to just five families.”
Ann added: “Last summer we acquired a new property on the Newry Road and we are in the process of applying for planning permission to re-develop it.
“We hope to have the project completed within one to two years. It will mean we can cater for eight families.”
Speaking about the decision, FLAC Chief Executive, Eilis Barry said: “FLAC welcomes Minister Charlie Flanagan’s decision.
“It is really important that this change has come in advance of the enactment of the new Domestic Violence legislation.
“This decision should allow more people to avail of the new protections afforded in the Domestic Violence Bill 2017.”
Ms Barry said: “Contrary to popular belief, while those who qualify for civil legal aid are subsidised, there is a strict means test and the service is not free.
“Fees range from €30 for those seeking legal advice, to a charge of €130 for legal representation. These costs disproportionately affect people who are already experiencing financial disadvantage and can be a significant barrier to legal representation.
“They are particularly onerous for anyone on the minimum rates of social welfare. The abolition of the requirement to pay fees in domestic violence cases removes a barrier to receiving protection from abuse through the court.”