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The Solicitors Panels

Background

In certain circumstances an applicant can be referred to a solicitor in a private firm (previously referred to as a private practitioner or PP) who has agreed to act on our behalf in certain cases.

We operate a number of private solicitors panels dealing with:

  • District Court private family law cases
  • International protection
  • Circuit Court judicial separation and divorce cases
  • Abhaile (the Government’s Free Mortgage Arrears Support service)
  • A pilot panel for childcare cases.

Each of the panels (which are maintained by Legal Services) is available on iLAB.

The solicitors panels are designed to supplement the service provided by law centres. The law centre is our main method of delivering legal services. Guidelines for referrals to the solicitors panels are issued from time to time.

We may consider establishing other solicitors panels during the lifetime of this edition of the Handbook. We will issue separate instructions if that happens.

Scope of the Circuit Court panel

The Circuit Court scheme applies to divorce and separation cases in that court jurisdiction. A phased reactivation of the Circuit Court panel is taking place however approval for cases to be referred must be sought and received from the Director of Civil Legal Aid/Regional Manager.

The District Court private family law panel

The remainder of this section primarily deals with referrals to the District Court private family law solicitors’ panel.

 The following cases may, subject to Management guidelines be referred to  the District Court private family law solicitors’ panel:

  • Maintenance;
  • Variance, enforcement, and discharge of maintenance orders;
  • Custody / welfare issues in relation to children;
  • Access issues in relation to children;
  • Guardianship of children; and
  • Remedies under the Domestic Violence Acts such as barring orders / safety orders  and protection orders.
  • Appeals of all of the above matters to the Circuit Court 

The Board is examining the possibility of piloting compulsory information sessions about non court based dispute resolution where dependent children are involved in the dispute.  This pilot is operative in a small number of locations and separate instructions have been issued in those locations where the pilot is active. They can be found on the Administrative Procedures Handbook tile on Lotus Notes.

Divorce and judicial separation cases may only be referred to  the Circuit Court Solicitors’ Panel under the direction of the Director of Civil Legal Aid / Regional Manager

The scope of either panel is subject to change and the ability of law centres to avail of the schemes is subject to such directives as the Director of Civil Legal Aid / Regional Manager may give from time to time regarding the use of the schemes.

Matters under the Domestic Violence Act 1996

Law centres may refer financially eligible applicants for legal aid in connection with proceedings under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 to private practitioners as and when required. These matters are to be treated as priority and there is no restriction on the amount of legal aid certificates that can be granted to a financially eligible applicant in connection with such proceedings.

Referring to a private solicitor when applicant is instituting proceedings – law centres outside of Dublin

Any applicant to a law centre outside of Dublin who has been granted a legal aid certificate for a matter, other than a domestic violence matter,  in the District Court within the previous 12 months should not be issued with a legal aid certificate to facilitate them retaining a private solicitor to institute proceedings for in the District Court for a matter, other than a domestic violence matter, until such time as 12 months has elapsed since the earlier certificate save in the following circumstances:

if an application is made to enforce a Maintenance Order that has been made within the previous 12 months, such a certificate may be issued for the purpose of seeking to enforce the Order. Not more than one such certificate should be issued in any 12 month period
the application is an urgent application to establish rights of custody to enable a person with no such rights to obtain remedies in relation to child abduction.
the application is an appeal to the Circuit Court of a matter for which they were already legally aided and represented by a member of the solicitors’ panel and they wish to engage the same solicitor for the appeal.

While applicants wishing to institute proceedings and do not come under this criteria may not be referred to a private solicitor, they should remain on the applications record and may be seen and, if a legal aid certificate is granted, represented by a law centre solicitor in due course.

All clients must pay the contribution before being given a legal aid certificate.

Referring both sides of the same case

An applicant may be referred to a private solicitor notwithstanding that  the other parties’ application has been processed by the law centre and referred to a private solicitor.  The same applies even where the other party has been seen by a law centre solicitor. Where one party has already been seen by a solicitor, the second party to apply must be referred to a private solicitor without seeing a solicitor in the law centre i.e while on the applications record for a first consultation. Ideally both sides will be referred to a private practitioner without receiving a first consultation in the law centre.

Enforcement of foreign maintenance cases

Applications for enforcement of foreign maintenance from applicants resident outside the jurisdiction are referred to the Board through the Central Authority for Maintenance Recovery (which is the Minister for Justice and Equality). Such applications are received in Legal Services and then referred to law centres. Law centres may refer applications to enforce maintenance orders which are automatically enforceable pursuant to the EU Maintenance Regulation (4/2009) to the solicitors panel where there is a court date pending. Similarly, requests on behalf of maintenance creditors in EU jurisdictions to establish maintenance orders in Ireland  may be referred to the solicitors panel if the law centre is not in a position to provide a timely service. Because the applicant is outside the jurisdiction and will not have any direct contact with the law centre, the law centre should refer cases to solicitors on the panel who have availability on a strict rotation basis.  Requests to enforce and establish maintenance orders pursuant to the Maintenance Act 1994 (the New York Convention) should not be referred out and should be handled with by law centre solicitors.