Children’s Rights Alliance speaks out over legal aid restrictions

Tanya Ward
Tanya Ward

The Children’s Rights Alliance has warned that “children will suffer” if the Legal Aid Board does not reverse its controversial decision to restrict referrals to the District Court.

The Board currently refers about 500 cases a month to a panel of private solicitors for advice and representation in family law matters including access, custody, guardianship and maintenance.

The Legal Aid Board has said it will be unable to refer families unless they are priority cases and that families will now have to go to Legal Aid Board centres to get legal advice and representation.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Alliance, said: “This decision will inevitably increase waiting times and delay families getting access to legal advice and remedies in very serious family law situations.

“We are calling on the Legal Aid Board to urgently reconsider this decision and for a supplementary budget to be made available to support this reversal. The Board provides an incredibly importance service to families in this country and they must be supported to continue their good work.

“The alternative is that children will suffer from this decision. The constitutional rights of the child to the care and company of their parents could be seriously impinged if a parent has to wait for a long period of time to resolve their situation.”

Ms Ward said the Alliance knew of “situations where parents are in dispute with each other and one parent could, for example, be denying the other parent access to their child”.

She said: “At present, such a case can be referred by the Legal Aid Board to a panel of private practitioners for advice and representation. This decision will inevitably mean increased waiting times and these will directly impact on a child’s rights to the care and company of their parents.

“Another critical issue arises for one-parent families. At present, such families seeking the One-Parent Family Payment are required to seek maintenance from the other parent before they may qualify. We are concerned that any delay in getting legal advice and representation could result in a serious backlog for children and families in securing access to this vital payment. Many families, who depend on this payment for survival, will be plunged further into poverty.

“Let’s not forget that families must have an income under €18,000 to qualify for legal aid. They are already living well below the poverty line, and have absolutely no option but to get civil legal aid.”

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