THE MINIMUM FINANCIAL contribution for availing of legal aid is to increase by 160 per cent following a statutory instrument introduced by the Minister for Justice.
Under previous rules the minimum contribution to the legal aid board was €50 in cases of representation but this has now been upped to €130. The of cost legal advice has also increased €10 to €30.
The Department of Justice estimates that the changes will provide the legal aid board with an extra €700,000 per year which Minister Shatter says will cut wait times and lead to a better service.
The Minister says that he is “conscious that the increase in the minimum contribution as a percentage is significant” but maintains that it is still low by international standards .
There has been a consistent increase in cases handled by the legal aid board in recent years which this year has a budget of €36.5 million.
There are also to be changes in eligibility for legal aid. Previously, an individual was required to demonstrate disposable capital of less than €320,000 to qualify but this figure has been reduced to €100,000. The value of an applicant’s home is not included in calculating disposable capital but their remaining assest are.
As part of the changes announced today parents are to be waived the financial contribution if they are defending themselves against the HSE in cases of child welfare. This provision is in place in other countries with similar legal systems but Minister Shatter said that it is now necessary to introduce it here:
I am conscious that these cases are public law matters and the parent is facing the might of the State. In those circumstances I do not believe that it remains appropriate that the parent should be obliged to make a financial contribution for their legal representation
Asylum seekers are also facing increased charges with those seeking civil legal services for asylum related matters now paying a once-off contribution of €10 as opposed to €6 at present.