In all dealings with the public, regard should be had to the provisions of the Board’s Customer Service Action Plan, available on iLAB. A key element of the Plan relates to how the Board interacts with its customers.
Care should be taken to ensure that every caller who visits the office or communicates by phone or letter is dealt with courteously.
A humane approach is crucial. Many of those approaching the Board will be upset and nervous and will have found it difficult to contact the office in the first place. Many will not have had legal/family difficulties before and they may be at a low point in their lives. It is essential that the approach should always be sympathetic and that explanations should be given where possible.
Each client with an appointment should be discreetly greeted by name and not kept waiting past the appointed time. It is the responsibility of the clerical staff to provide a friendly greeting.
Visitors causing difficulties
Visitors causing difficulties should be dealt with in line with the principles contained in Chapter 7, which deals with Client Care.
A staff member should give information only if satisfied that it is correct
If there is any doubt, the query should be referred to somebody who is in a position to provide the correct information.
All staff are expected to be in a position to provide general information about the scope of the service (e.g. the registration requirement for family mediation, the requirement of a means and a merits test for civil legal aid, the location of offices etc.)
When giving information, a person should not be informed that he/she is ineligible for legal services (on financial or other grounds) without also being told that this may be confirmed, by the managing solicitor (or, if not available, another experienced solicitor), or, if necessary, through the normal applications procedure.
If the enquiry is one which cannot be dealt with by the office because, for example, it has to do with Government policies underlying the Act, etc. - then the enquirer should be referred to Head Office (as should all enquiries in cases of doubt).
Head Office: 066 9471000
LoCall: 1890 615 200
(Note that the above LoCall number is for the use of the general public. Staff of the Board using the Board’s telephone system should use the standard 066 number).
Queries on matters of law
The basic rule to be followed in relation to all enquiries, where legal matters arise, is to refer the matter to a solicitor.
We have published sixteen information leaflets, mainly on family law topics and mediation. You should keep copies of these on display in your office’s reception.
Applicable to law centres only:
Queries concerning individual applicants/clients
Information concerning the cases of individual applicants/clients should be treated in strict confidence and should, in no circumstances, be discussed with third parties. For this purpose, a “third party” is any party, other than the client, who makes an enquiry about the case except:-
- members of the Board or its staff, who may require the information in the normal course of dealing with applications for legal services or the proper management of the organisation; and
- a lawyer representing an opposing party or a witness or other person directly involved where, in the opinion of the solicitor representing the particular client, it is essential, and would be part of normal practice, to make certain information available for the purpose of dealing properly with the client’s case.
Third parties include other offices for this purpose.
The standard reply to all third parties should be to the effect that we are bound by the terms of the Act to observe confidentiality (Section 32) and that we interpret this to mean that information cannot be given to third parties in any circumstances. A template letter is provided in EOS. Every other assistance should be provided, including, if appropriate, details of the application and appeal procedures. See also Chapter 5 under Requests from the Courts for information about applicants.
To access a template in EOS, click the Documents tab, choose Add New Document. If you are in the APP01.Application Received workflow, you will find the template below in the Suggested Templates
APP01.Letter to third party re confidentiality
APP01.Application Received workflow
PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
Mr John Smith
1 Main Street
1st September 2016
Dear Mr Smith,
I refer to your enquiry of __________________ regarding ____________________.
We are unable to disclose any information relating to the named individual. We are bound by the terms of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 to observe confidentiality and we interpret this to mean that we cannot give information to third parties under any circumstances.
Section 32 of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 states:
“Save as is otherwise specifically provided for by this Act, the relationship between a solicitor or barrister and an applicant for, or a person in receipt of, legal aid or advice and the rights and privileges arising out of such relationship shall be the same as the relationship between, and the rights and privileges arising out of the relationship between, a solicitor or barrister and his or her client not being an applicant for, or a person in receipt of, legal aid or advice.”
It is our policy to issue a letter to an applicant, on request, detailing:
The date on which they made their application;
The matter to which the application relates;
Whether further information is required from the person;
Whether the application has been determined and, if so, the outcome; and
The estimated time of appointment at the law centre.
If you have any queries in relation to making an application for legal services, or our general policies or procedures, please contact the office.
Law Centre ( )
Media queries on the Act and individual cases
Media queries concerning the Act are primarily a matter for Head Office staff who are responsible for press matters.
In practice, many queries from local media are dealt with by the managers of the relevant offices. In the case of enquiries from local press, Head Office should be informed of the contact made and provided with copies of any press coverage.
In the case of enquiries from the national media, the proper course is to refer the enquirer to the Director of Corporate Services.
Other press contacts
Members of staff have occasionally been asked to appear on radio or television, etc.
The following procedure should be followed in all such cases:-
- clarification should be sought as to whether the officer is expected to appear in a personal capacity or as a representative of the Board;
- an indication should be sought as to the nature of the matters to be discussed; and
- Head Office should be consulted before any decision to appear is conveyed.
The Director of Corporate Services in consultation with the Chief Executive will then consider the matter with a view to deciding what arrangement should apply.
Where a staff member is not specifically appearing on radio or television, but at a public meeting or lecture where his/her comments are likely to be picked up by the media, the principles outlined above will also apply.