Judges insist on legal aid – 2013vol1#22

Two HSE applications for supervisions orders were adjourned in the Dublin District Court to enable the parents obtain legal aid.

In one case the mother told the judge that when she went to the legal aid office on that morning she was told they could not give her a solicitor for that day’s hearing. The father said he did not want a solicitor.

The judge told the father: “This is an application for a Supervision Order. You say you don’t want legal aid but you are entitled to legal aid. There is an office in the building and they have a list of other offices.

“The first thing you will be told is there is a queue and you must tell them it’s a child care matter and you are entitled to priority. I recommend you have legal advice. A Supervision Order entitles the social workers to come and visit your children whether you like it or not. It’s not a light matter. If a Supervision Order is made it requires a finding that the health and welfare of the child require it and it is of significance”.

The judge told the father that nobody could force him to apply for legal aid. “I don’t need a solicitor because all the allegations are untrue,” the father said. The judge said he would not be hearing any evidence on that day but if he came the next day without legal representation he would hear him then.

He adjourned the hearing for four days to enable the parents to get legal aid. The judge said all applications for legal aid should be treated the same and if they were told they could not have a solicitor in four days’ time, he would appoint and award costs for a private solicitor for that day only and would keep adjourning it until the Legal Aid Board appointed one. “The Legal Aid Board and the HSE know my views on it,” he said.

In the other case the district judge told a couple who were not legally represented in Supervision Order proceedings to re-apply for legal aid. When he reminded the mother’s partner that he had told them to seek legal aid on the last occasion on which they were in court, the man told the judge they had been told in the Legal Aid office that there would be a charge of €50 and they could not afford it.

“Were you told that the fee could be waived?” the judge asked. The partner, the father of one of two children who are the subject of the proceedings, said they had not been told about the possibility of having the fee waived. The judge told him there was such a provision and that there was also a possibility that his local community welfare office might be able to assist.

“You have to apply for Legal Aid. There is a charge but also a process to apply to have it waived. It’s a child protection matter and you’re entitled to priority.”  The solicitor for the HSE undertook to contact the parents’ local legal aid office. He told the court that depending on the outcome of the HSE’s investigation they might be applying for an Interim Care Order. The parents told the court they would re-apply for legal aid.

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