Legal aid needs to be more accessible for Irish women, UN told

Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC
Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC

Civil legal aid needs to be more accessible so that women can enforce their rights, legal rights group FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) has said.

Representatives from the group are at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva today to raise concerns about the enforcement of women’s rights in Ireland ahead of a UN examination of the Irish government delegation on Wednesday.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will hear from civil society organisations - including FLAC - on how the human rights of women in Ireland are being realised.

Eilis Barry, chief executive of FLAC, said ahead of the briefing: “Civil legal aid is a gatekeeper right - it unlocks access to other basic rights that promote and protect women. In Ireland there are substantial barriers to this vital mechanism.

“At present, the means test, financial eligibility criteria and financial contribution requirements make civil legal aid inaccessible for many women. Even those who qualify for civil legal aid may face long delays in seeing a solicitor.”

FLAC is calling for financial eligibility criteria - which have not been reviewed since 2006 - to be updated to realistic levels, so that women without sufficient means can access legal aid to enforce their rights.

It has also raised concerns over legal aid resources.

The group says the Legal Aid Board should be resourced to waive its requirement for women affected by domestic violence to pay financial contributions for legal aid when seeking safety, protection and barring orders, and that legal aid resources should be reviewed every time legislation that is likely to impact demand is introduced.

Ms Barry said: “If the new and welcome provisions in the recent Domestic Violence Bill are to be truly effective and enforceable, the Legal Aid Board needs to be properly resourced.”

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