A woman who wants to bring family law proceedings against her allegedly violent former partner has settled her High Court challenge over the Legal Aid board's refusal to fund her action.
The mother of two, who is reliant on social welfare payments, had claimed that her application for legal aid was turned down because she is in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). That payment was classified in her application to the board as income and took her above the threshold to qualify for legal aid.
She claimed the decision was wrong and breached her rights.
However, her judicial review proceedings against the board, where the Minister for Justice was a notice party, have been settled.
The settlement arose after the Department of Justice announced last month that HAP and other social housing supports including Rental Accommodation Scheme, Rent Supplement, Mortgage Interest Supplement and Rent Allowance, are now excluded from the calculation of entitlement to legal aid.
The woman, represented by lawyers for Community Law & Mediation, which offers legal services to the disadvantaged, argued that the board's decision was wrong and should be quashed.
The woman and her family cannot be identified for legal reasons.
Previously the court heard that the woman had been in a relationship with the children's father for many years. That relationship, she claimed, was marred by domestic violence. It eventually broke down, resulting in her having to go to a women's refuge.
The woman and her minor children then moved into rented accommodation.
She wants to bring family law proceedings against her former partner regarding issues over their former home and maintenance payments.
She claimed that she lacked the means to pay lawyers to act for her, and made an application for legal aid to the Legal Aid Board. When the board assessed her application, it included her HAP payment as income. That put her above the financial threshold allowed in order to qualify for legal aid, and refused her application.
The woman had secured permission to bring her challenge from the High Court in January. However, following out of court talks the matter was formally resolved between the parties.
In a statement Rose Wall, the Chief Executive of Community Law & Mediation, welcomed both the settlement and the Department's decision to change the criteria used to calculate legal aid.
She said the new policy “will bring great relief to many people who, like our client, may be dealing with family situations, domestic violence in the home or who may be experiencing discrimination at work, but who can’t afford to pay for legal representation of their own."
“The change to the eligibility criteria is effective immediately, so we are actively encouraging people who had previously been refused legal aid because of their housing support payment to reapply”.
Ms Wall added that the service also welcomes plans by the Dept of Justice “to review the Civil Legal Aid Scheme” and hope that this moment will now be seized to undertake other urgent reforms needed to break down barriers which place access to justice beyond the reach of many.”