The Cost of Justice

High legal fees are locking people out of the courts system.

If someone needs legal services, it can mean paying thousands of euros, and the exact cost generally can’t be predicted in advance.

For example, if you want to hire a solicitor for a divorce they will refuse to tell you how much it will all cost because they don’t know. Lawyers charge an hourly rate. If they make a phone call, write a letter, peruse a case file, do research or witness a statement the lawyers will charge for this, all before anyone steps foot inside a courtroom.

The difficulty of the case depends on whether there are assets that need to be discovered and valued, children who need custody arrangements, or maintenance payments where one spouse earns significantly more than the other. It also depends whether the case is contested.

Given that hourly rates are invariably more than €100, this process can mean a bill in the thousands.

Most people don’t have that much money sitting around. It can mean being forced to drop the case, self-representation in court or getting into debt to pay your legal fees. The threat of legal action alone is often enough to bully people into settlements.

Chances are most people will need legal help at some point in their lives. Apart from general legal transactions like registering a will or buying a house, you can’t predict when you might be illegally evicted, unfairly dismissed, run over by a reckless driver or be unable to pay your debts.

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How to help domestic violence victims

Fixing our legal aid system is the first step to ending the vicious cycle of violence.

Legal aid “significantly lowers the incidence of domestic violence.” That’s according to an extensive 2003 study in the US.

Economists Farmer & Tiefenthaler took an unprecedented look at how increasing social service provision affected the frequency of domestic violence during the 1990s. They found that increasing social service programs reduced the likelihood of abuse. However, no measure was more effective than the availability of legal aid, including shelters and emergency helplines.

Because legal services help women with practical matters (such as protective orders, custody, and child support) they appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships.

Another 2012 study from Alvarez & Marsal found an even more significant result; since intimate partner violence is a pattern of repetitive behaviour, a successful legal intervention avoids 1.76 incidents over the twelve months following the intervention.

Despite the importance of legal help for domestic violence survivors, access still remains an issue. Approximately half of the clients Women’s Aid support are eligible for legal aid and, of those who apply, 75% receive legal aid. This leaves over 60% of women with no access to legally aided representation.

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