Legal Aid for non-criminal cases is known as civil legal aid and has been available since 1979. If you need civil legal aid, you must contact one of the Legal Aid Centres. There is a means test for legal aid; your disposable income must be less than €18,000 per annum. You must also have disposable capital of less than €320,000. If you meet the conditions set out in the Rules section below, the legal aid board may provide you with legal advice and/or legal aid. Legal advice is simply oral or written advice given by a solicitor and/or barrister relating to Irish law. Legal aid means representation by a solicitor (and barrister if necessary) in your case. The important thing to remember about civil legal aid is that it is not free legal aid. If you qualify for civil legal aid, you will have to make some contributions to the overall costs of the proceedings. The Rates section below sets out the minimum and maximum contributions that may be made. If the Board refuses to grant you legal aid, you may appeal that decision.
If you wish to avail of legal aid and advice, you must satisfy certain conditions. You must first show that you are eligible and that you meet the criteria for obtaining legal advice or the criteria for obtaining legal aid. Your case must not be one that falls within the excluded areas.
There are minimum contributions that must be paid (€10 for legal advice and €50 for legal aid) except in cases of extreme hardship. However, the contribution that you must make depends on your disposable income for legal advice and your disposable income and disposable capital for legal aid. For legal advice, a minimum contribution of €10 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is one-tenth of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income, up to a maximum of €150. For legal aid, a minimum contribution of €50 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is €50 plus one-quarter of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income. You must pay an additional contribution if your disposable capital is more than €4,000 as follows:
- Up to €54,000 your contribution is 2.5% of the difference between €4,000 and your disposable capital
- Over €54,000 your contribution is €1,250 plus 5% of the difference between €54,000 and your disposable capital
How to apply
If the legal matter in question is a marriage dispute and both spouses are eligible for legal aid, they should be represented by different law centres. To find out whether you qualify for legal aid and/or advice, you should simply complete the Means Test Form available in the Law Centres. You will give details about your income and your expenses on a confidential basis. If your application is accepted, you will be asked to make a minimum contribution. If legal aid is necessary, the Board will issue you with a legal aid certificate. There is a waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor. Since 2005, the maximum waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor is four months. However, the Board gives priority to certain categories of cases, such as domestic violence, child care, child abduction and cases where there is a danger that the time limits for issuing proceedings may expire.