What is civil legal aid and advice?
Civil legal aid and advice is the service which provides assistance with civil legal problems for persons unable to pay for their own legal representation.
Legal advice is any oral or written advice given by a solicitor or a barrister in civil matters. It can include writing letters on a client’s behalf and acting for them in negotiations (including reaching legally binding agreements) with other persons. We provide legal advice through solicitors in our law centre network.
When we grant legal advice to a financially eligible person, that only includes advice provided by a law centre solicitor. If they require advice from a barrister (such as Counsel’s opinion), or from any other professional not employed directly by us, an application must be made for authority to engage Counsel or the professional concerned.
Legal aid means that the applicant will be represented by a solicitor or barrister in civil proceedings in the:
- International Protection Appeals Tribunal
- District Court
- Circuit Court
- High Court
- Court of Appeal
- Supreme Court
- Court of Justice of the European Union
We can also provide legal aid in certain inquests. (è Part 4)
Legal aid starts once any steps necessary to start proceedings are taken, or an appearance/defence needs to be filed.
Section 28(1) states that a person shall not be granted legal aid unless the person is granted a legal aid certificate”. A legal aid certificate must be applied for on behalf of the applicant, and granted, before legal aid can be provided. A law centre cannot file an appearance or defence for someone unless a legal aid certificate has been granted.
In most cases, we provide legal aid through solicitors employed in our law centres. In some cases, we provide legal aid through solicitors in private practice who have agreed with the Board to provide service according to our terms and conditions and to be placed on one of our panels. These cases include some family law disputes where the matters are being dealt with in the District Court.
We often refer to civil legal aid and advice collectively as “legal services” or “civil legal services”. If you see these expressions in the Circular, take them as referring to both.
The law which provides for civil legal aid services can be found in the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 (referred to throughout this document as “the Act”), which established the Legal Aid Board as an independent statutory body. The Board was originally established in 1980 on an administrative basis only. Further and more detailed provisions, particularly (but not exclusively) relating to the financial criteria, can be found in the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996, 2002, 2006, 2013, and 2016 (collectively the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996-2016 and referred to in this document as simply “The Regulations”).
It is important to note that we are required to act under the Act and Regulations at all times, we have no power to vary the requirements unless the Act and Regulations say that we can do so. This can arise, for example, when applicants ask why we cannot take electricity bills into account in the determination of financial eligibility, or if a client asks why their settlement has to be paid into the Legal Aid Fund. As a body established by law, we can only do what the law says we can do. That being said, the Oireachtas may amend the Act and the Minister can amend the Regulations.