Lorraine Clifford, Fianna Fáil Local Area Representative for Pembroke – South Dock, has called for Justice Minister Alan Shatter to immediately halt plans to raise the minimum financial contribution by individuals availing of civil legal aid from €50 to €130.
The move will cause inestimable distress and hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in society.
‘I am a solicitor and have represented many legal aid clients in family law proceedings.
‘To Alan Shatter and others in Government this raise in the legal aid contribution might seem small but to many of my clients this effectively means they cannot receive legal advice and be represented in court. This is simply more money than they have.
‘It is one of the cruelest and uncaring financial decisions taken by this mean spirited government, impacting to access to justice and families across the country’ she added.
Mr Shatter says the extra money raised by the higher charges would be used to fund the service provided by the Legal Aid Board to those unable to pay for legal representation and advice from their own resources.
‘Mr Shatter says that this massive rise in the legal aid contribution is to help those unable to pay for legal representation, which is a truly bizarre explanation.
‘I have clients who have to save up for months to pay the €50 contribution as it is. I have spoken to some of clients in recent hours and they’re distressed and they have told me that they simply will not be able to seek legal advice and representation in court in the future.
‘This means complex matters that affect not only themselves but their families, their children, their very daily existence will have to be confronted without any legal advice whatsoever, because most simply don’t have this money.’
Mr Shatter claims that the payments could be waived in hardship cases.
‘But all these people are hardship cases; they wouldn’t expect to receive legal aid in a family law matter if they weren’t hardship cases.
‘I really can’t imagine what he was thinking, especially since he was a family law solicitor himself. But clearly he was dealing with affluent clients to whom €50 or even €130 wasn’t much money.
‘But to many of my clients, this is a large amount of money, money they don’t have, and they will simply go without legal advice and representation in the courts than pay it.
‘Please reverse this cruel increase Mr Shatter, and increase the funding to the Legal Aid Board so the lengthy waiting lists can be tackled without impacting on people during the most stressful, upsetting time in their lives’
Most applications to the Legal Aid Board involve custody, access, maintenance, guardianship, domestic violence, judicial separation and divorce.