BY JACKIE KEOGH
PLANS to cut legal aid in family law cases in the District Court have been deferred, sparing those most in need âuntold hardship.'
Skibbereen solicitor Maria O'Donovan welcomed the deferral by the Legal Aid Board and said it would have caused delays in providing consultations in a system that already has a considerable backlog, with Cork worst affected.
Â âIf the plan to cut legal aid â as was proposed by the Legal Aid Board on Tuesday, July 25th last â had gone ahead, it would have caused untold hardship to those most in need,' she said.
In a bid to cut costs, the Legal Aid Board had written to private practitioners instructing them that only âpriority cases' would be eligible for assistance.
âThis meant that all other cases would go on a waiting list to be dealt with by a solicitor working with the Legal Aid Board.
âIn my estimation, it would have meant that 90% of family law clients, who would be entitled to legal aid, would have been referred back to the Legal Aid Board.
âClearly, this would have caused delays in providing consultations and already there is a considerable backlog, with Cork worst affected.'
Figures for Cork show that there are presently 260 people awaiting their first consultation with a Legal Aid Board solicitor in Cork â and that one of those on the list is already waiting 28 weeks.
Ms O'Donovan said: âThere is an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. The board's decision to restrict the private referrals scheme made no sense. In fact, it was established first day to tackle delays within the system.
âThe decision to reinstate the referral scheme means that people seeking assistance with family law matters can continue to access legal representation as before.
âThey will, however, have to pay a minimum contribution of â¬130 to the Legal Aid Board, which is standard in all cases.'