Dublin South West TD, Seán Crowe, has welcomed the deferral by the Legal Aid Board to begin restricting access to those applying for Legal Aid in District Court family law cases and said the decision now gives the Department of Justice a golden opportunity to address the dilemma facing the financially strapped Board.
The Sinn Féin TD described the potential cut as deeply troubling and had expressed his concern about the impact it would have had on some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged families.
Teachta Seán Crowe said:
“I want to welcome the deferral by the Legal Aid Board to cut legal aid in family law cases at the District Court. Legal aid is a vital service and the impact of any cut in supports would have been felt immediately.
“The Board refers approximately 500 cases a month to a panel of private solicitors for advice and representation in family law matters such as access, custody, guardianship and maintenance. The cut would have inevitably increased waiting times for legal aid and delayed families getting access to legal advice and solutions in crisis family law situations.
“The Legal Aid Board had publicly stated that the original decision had been taken for purely for budgetary reasons, something they felt was forced upon them. We know that Legal Aid funding, particularly Civil Legal Aid, has been grossly underfunded for some time now.
“In my opinion the ongoing underfunding of this service and the long waiting times are unacceptable as it is a vital service for some of the poorest and most marginalised in Irish society. It would have put tens of thousands at a serious disadvantage in dealing with the courts, particularly where one or other parties have legal representation.
“Many family law cases are quite sensitive and extremely stressful and the likelihood that someone would have to represent themselves in open court ,would add significant pressure, worry, and an unwanted burden on families and individuals already at breaking point.
“This deferral now gives the Department of Justice a golden opportunity to address the unfair financial burden placed on the cash strapped Legal Aid Board.
“The Department of Justice have up to now paid lip service to the Board and its well signalled financial difficulties. I am now calling on the Minister to address shortfall in funding as a matter of urgency and use this golden opportunity to address the current financial difficulties faced by the Legal Aid Board and the unacceptable waiting times for legal aid services.”