Services provided by law centres
Legal advice is any oral or written advices 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 with other persons. Legal advice is provided by solicitors in the Board's law centre network.
Legal aid means representation by a solicitor or barrister in civil proceedings in the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. Legal aid is available also for representation before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal and in certain cases before Coroner’s Inquests.
Legal aid is provided by solicitors employed by us in our law centres. In certain cases, legal aid may be provided by solicitors in private practice who are contracted by the Board and placed on a panel for this purpose.
The Circular on Legal Services, Part 1 contains a longer definition of civil legal aid and advice/. It also tells you about the types of cases for which we provide legal services
Civil and criminal matters
It is important to be aware of the distinction between a civil and criminal matter. We can provide legal aid in most civil matters. A limited number of matters are excluded from the scope of civil legal aid. A civil matter may be described as a matter which concerns disputes between individuals or individuals and organisations. The Circular on Legal Services gives details of the matters covered by the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995.
Criminal matters which concern the prosecution of offences which carry a criminal penalty, i.e. a fine, community service, or imprisonment – are outside the scope of the Civil Legal Aid Act and not dealt with by us. Legal aid for defendants (the person who is accused of having committed the crime) in criminal matters must be sought from the Court and the grant or refusal of legal aid is at the discretion of the Judge. We provide certain services to victims of crime:
- we may give legal advice, and in certain circumstances legal aid, to a complainant (that is, the person against whom the crime has allegedly been committed) in rape and certain sexual assault cases.
- We can also give legal advice to alleged victims of human trafficking.
- We may provide legal aid to complainants or witnesses in certain criminal proceedings in the case of an application for the release of counselling records, if they are the person to whom those records relate.
The distinction between civil and criminal matters is not always obvious. For example, a failure to comply with an access order, though dealt with in the family law courts rather than the criminal courts, may be treated as a criminal matter, though there are also civil enforcement orders available. However it should be noted that the fact that a person may be imprisoned does not necessarily mean that the matter is a criminal matter. The golden rule should be: if you are in doubt over whether the matter is civil or criminal, ask a solicitor in the law centre or allow the person to make an application for legal services in any case.
A person presenting a summons in which the complainant/prosecutor is named in the format “The People (at the suit of the Director of Public Prosecutions)” or “Director of Public Prosecutions (at the suit of Garda x)”, or in which the parties are named as Prosecutor and Accused/Defendant, is usually involved in a criminal case and should be advised that the Board is unable to deal with criminal matters and they should seek legal aid from the court. However, if unsure, ask a solicitor, or allow the person to make an application for legal aid.