Woman claims legal aid application in family law case was refused because she receives HAP
A woman who wants to bring family law proceedings against her allegedly violent former partner has launched a 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, claims that her application for legal aid was turned down because she is in receipt of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). She claims that the board’s decision is wrong and should be quashed.
The High Court heard that the woman had been in a relationship with the children’s father for many years. That relationship, she claims, 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, where they currently reside.
She wants to bring family law proceedings against her former partner regarding issues over their former home, maintenance and contributions she made to the household. The High Court heard that woman lacks the means to pay lawyers to act for her, and made an application for legal aid to the Legal Aid Board.
She claims that when the board assessed her application it included her HAP payment as income. This put her above the financial threshold allowed in order to qualify for legal aid, and refused her application. The board’s refusal was confirmed following an internal appeal last October.
The woman claims the decision is wrong and breaches of her rights. She claims that, in arriving at its decision, the board failed to take into account that she lacks the means to meet the cost of litigation against her former partner. It also failed to regard that the HAP is made to the landlord, not the woman, and the fact the HAP is a form of social housing support, and not income.
The HAP payment, she claims, is not a benefit in kind, or partly free board, and is only made to those unable to provide accommodation from their own means.
As a result, the woman has brought judicial review proceedings against the Legal Aid Board, where she seeks orders including one quashing the board’s refusal of her application for legal aid. She also seeks an order directing the board to reconsider her application.
The woman further seeks various declarations including that the board’s decision was based on an error of law, was unreasonable, was based on irrelevant considerations, and constitutes a breach of the board’s statutory obligations.
The Minister for Justice is a notice party to the action. Mr Justice Charles Meenan granted permission to bring the challenge on an ex-parte basis and made the matter returnable to a date in March.