‘No justification’ for legal aid contribution from domestic violence victims

Wendy Lyon

Wendy Lyon

There is no justification for requiring a financial contribution towards legal aid from victims of domestic violence, a lawyer has said, after it emerged the cost of abolishing the contribution would be just €366,000.

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has revealed the cost of waiving the fee would be €138,000 where the sole application before the court is for an order under the Domestic Violence Act, and €228,000 where that is among multiple matters before the court.

The figures were revealed in an answer to a written Dáil question by Jonathan O’Brien, Sinn Féin’s justice spokesperson.

Responding to the figures, Dublin solicitor Wendy Lyon, who specialises in sexual, reproductive and maternity rights, told Irish Legal News: “Currently a person who seeks a protection, safety, or barring order must pay a minimum contribution of €130 for legal aid.

“This is a prohibitive cost for some women and certainly impedes their access to justice. In its recommendations to the Irish government last month, the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women called for the contribution to be waived for victims in domestic violence proceedings. It’s hard to see any justification for this fee, based on these figures.

“Bear in mind that Minister Fitzgerald recently introduced a €950,000 ‘awareness campaign’ aimed at people who witness domestic violence. If she can find that much money for television adverts of questionable utility, she can certainly find the money to assist more actual victims.”

The financial contribution was also the subject of criticism this year from by legal rights group FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), which has described it as a “substantial barrier” to access to justice.

Ms Fitzgerald has said she expects the Legal Aid Board to bring a proposal to her on this issue “in the near future”.