What we do
“The principal functions of the Board shall be… to provide, within the Board’s resources and subject to the other provisions of this Act—
(i) legal aid and advice in civil cases to persons who satisfy the requirements of this Act, and
(ii) a family mediation service;”
- Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, as amended
This handbook has been produced with the aim of providing a reference detailing all necessary procedures for the running of a law centre. This handbook is an “operating manual” for all law centre staff. Information specific to legal matters can be found in the separate Circular on Legal Services. Template letters in this handbook are to be used by staff where necessary unless otherwise stated.
Who is this handbook for?
This handbook has been written for all existing staff as well as newcomers to the Board. The directions and procedures in this handbook apply to staff in law centres – solicitor, paralegal, and clerical staff. Aspects of the handbook may also be relevant to other staff.
For the purposes of this handbook the term “law centre” includes all law centres unless the context indicates otherwise. It also includes (unless otherwise stated) the Dolphin House Service, Childcare Unit, and Law Centre (Montague Court), which operate in similar manner to other law centres, notwithstanding their specialised remits.
How the handbook works
The handbook provides two types of information – general background information on our procedures in an area – why we do things this way, and detailed procedures which must be carried out – how we do things.
|Important information and procedures are in a box like this!|
Information in a box falls into three categories. Procedures are headed with the word “Procedure” and incorporate a step-by-step guide to the way a particular activity should be carried out. Important messages and directions are also in a box.
There are also cross references like this:
With an > Arrow symbol indicating that there is more information about the procedure in another Chapter.
The EOS logo means that the section in question contains information or procedures relating to EOS, the Board’s Case Management System.
Updates to procedures
Procedures may change from time to time. Updates to procedures will be circulated by email in the form of amendments to this handbook. Such amendments will supersede the existing handbook and should be printed off and inserted in the appropriate place.
Feedback in relation to the procedures outlined in the handbook is encouraged and should be forwarded to a member of staff in Civil Operations or to a member of the Professional Practice Work Group for consideration.
Other sources of information
Apart from this handbook, other sources of information that might be consulted include
- The Circular on Legal Services, a guide to decision making and best practice contains detail on legal matters.
- The Family Mediation Procedures Handbook provides an operating manual for the running of the Board’s mediation offices.
- The Staff Handbook and Manager’s Handbook provide information on Human Resources policies and procedures. They are distributed to all new staff members and managers respectively by Human Resources.
- The IT Help Manuals contain detailed information on the use of the IT system.
- An information pack containing information about certain legal issues.
About the Legal Aid Board
The Legal Aid Board is a State body established by the Oireachtas by law (the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995). Our purpose is to provide mediation in family disputes, legal advice, and representation in family and civil disputes to people who cannot afford to pay for a private lawyer. A civil dispute is one which is between individuals or individuals and organisations (as opposed to criminal cases, which concern the prosecution of criminal offences). As well as family disputes, civil disputes can include such matters as disputes regarding a contract, cases where someone has allegedly committed a civil wrong (“tort”) and the wronged person is looking for damages, and disputes regarding property. In Part 1 of the Circular on Legal Services, you can read more about what is and what is not covered by civil legal aid and advice.
We do not provide legal aid to persons accused of criminal offences, though we have responsibility for the administration of a number of what are called “ad hoc” legal aid schemes connected with criminal law matters.
The Minister for Justice and Equality appoints the Board for a five year term. There is a Chairperson and twelve other members, at least two of which are barristers and at least two of which are solicitors. There are also two staff members appointed and one of these is also usually a solicitor. The term “the Board” is sometimes used to mean the Chairperson and members of the Board (sometimes referred to as the “statutory Board” or the “Board of the Legal Aid Board”) and sometimes used to mean the organisation as a whole. Both usages are correct. The Legal Aid Board is a body corporate (a legal person) and has a continuing existence independent from its membership, which changes from time to time.
What we do
The Legal Aid Board has two main functions:
- To provide mediation in family disputes
- To provide legal advice and legal aid in civil cases.
This handbook deals mainly with the provision of legal advice and legal aid. On iLAB, our intranet, you can find the family mediation procedures handbook, where you can read more about how we provide mediation in family disputes. Mediation involves both parties sitting down with a mediator who helps them come to an agreement. Family mediation may, for many separating couples, be a more appropriate way of solving their dispute than going down the legal route. But it is not appropriate for everyone, particularly where there are domestic violence issues. Family mediation is currently available to everyone and is free of charge. There are sixteen mediation offices located nationwide. You will find information in this Handbook, particularly in Chapters 3 & 6 , about when it is appropriate to refer applicants to family mediation.
There are certain requirements, laid down in the Act and the Regulations that were made under the Act, to get civil legal aid and advice.
- Must have income after set allowances are deducted, of less than €18,000 per year
- Must have capital assets, excluding the home in which they live, of less than €100,000
The topic of the case:
- Must be a civil matter – not a criminal case
- Must not be a “designated matter” (one of a list of matters, set out in the Act, for which civil legal aid and/or advice is not available – e.g. defamation and most property disputes)
Where legal aid is provided:
- It must be in the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, or Supreme Court, or a reference from one of those courts to the Court of Justice of the European Union, or at a designated Tribunal – the only designated Tribunal at present is the International Protection Appeals Tribunal (It is possible that in the future other Tribunals may be designated by the Minister)
- The case must meet merits criteria – principally that the applicant would take the case if they were paying for it privately and that a solicitor or barrister would advise the applicant to take the case if they were paying for it privately.
There are exceptions to the above that you will encounter. For example, we provide limited legal aid and advice services to certain alleged victims of crime. The above is just a general guide. You will find more information on what is covered by civil legal aid and advice and the application of the merits criteria in the Circular on Legal Services, while there is a full guide to assessing a person’s financial eligibility in Chapter 4 of this Handbook.
Part 1 of the Circular contains more detailed information on what civil legal aid and advice is and what it covers
The function of our civil legal aid and advice service is to make the services of solicitors and, where necessary, barristers available to qualifying persons. There are two ways in which we do this:
- Our directly delivered service, through thirty four law centres located nationwide, staffed by solicitors, paralegals, and clerical staff directly employed by the Legal Aid Board
- Our solicitors panels, comprised of solicitors in private practice who have agreed to provide services on terms and conditions put in place by the Board.
The law centre is the primary method of providing services, but the solicitors panel provide an important supplementary service in certain areas of law. There is also a barristers panel, comprised of barristers who have agreed to provide services on terms and conditions put in place by the Board.
We publish a number of leaflets regarding the services we provide and also on applying for legal services. The leaflets published to date provide general information, in non-legalistic language, on a range of family law remedies which are currently available. The leaflets are available at law centres and mediation offices, on our website www.legalaidboard.ie as well as court offices and Citizen’s Information Centres throughout the country.
There is a Legal Aid Fund consisting of a grant from the Department of Justice and Equality, contributions from aided persons and other income for example recovery of costs in some cases. The Legal Aid Fund is the money which is available to the Board to provide our services.