Voluntary Assistance Scheme
What is the ‘Voluntary Assistance’ scheme?
Under our ‘Voluntary Assistance’ scheme, barristers provide services directly to non-government organisations working with members of the community who cannot afford legal services.
All areas of the law are covered by this scheme. The main areas include:
- housing issues;
- landlord and tenant issues;
- prison-related issues;
- social welfare appeals; and
- debt-related issues.
Barristers with expertise in each of these areas of the law will help organisations having difficulties to handle them.
What type of assistance can we provide?
The scheme makes available every service which barristers ordinarily provide to clients. Examples include:
- advising whether there may be a legal angle to a particular problem;
- helping with the drafting of initial letters;
- advising whether a claim might be brought to Court and what steps need to be taken to do so;
- drafting documents needed to bring a claim to Court;
- representing a client in Court;
- providing training in advocacy (how to plead a case) to organisations that may need to represent clients themselves; and
- providing advice in relation to law reform.
Sometimes barristers will first need to be instructed by solicitors (given the details of the case) before they give help. If so, a number of solicitors are willing to act in these cases.
Who can use Voluntary Assistance?
The Voluntary Assistance scheme is available to all non-government organisations working with people who have legal problems and who cannot afford the services of lawyers. The scheme does not include family law because this is the one area of law which is extensively covered by the government operated Legal Aid scheme.
How do people get access to Voluntary Assistance?
Jeanne McDonagh is the administrator of the Voluntary Assistance scheme. Jeanne is secretary to the External Relations Committee, which runs this scheme on behalf of the Bar Council. You can contact Jeanne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 01-817 5014.
Any voluntary organisation wishing to use the Voluntary Assistance scheme should contact Jeanne who will make sure that a barrister with the appropriate expertise provides the service needed.
Guidelines for preparing a case for the VAS
The administrator must receive adequate detail about the nature of the issue and the advice needed. This includes details about the person, their means, whether they have applied for Legal Aid and if so, what was the outcome, a synopsis of the case/query to date, whether a solicitor has been retained and so on.
The case information you email (email@example.com) should include details of:
- On whose behalf you are looking for assistance of VAS from;
- The factual background
- Details of other attempts made to acquire legal assistance, including applications for Legal Aid. Details of the reasons that the applicant is unable to acquire legal assistance.
- An undertaking to act as contact between your client and the Scheme. This is an important point as if the case is accepted, there can be no direct contact between the client and VAS. The NGO is the point of contact. VAS cannot under any circumstances take on individuals cases. It only considers enquiries from NGOs and charitable organisations.
- Please note that if the nature of the case is such that it comes within the remit of the Legal Aid Board applicants must apply to the Legal Aid Board for assistance before submitting an application to VAS.
- If the enquiry is in relation to a case already fixed for hearing, the date the case is due in court. VAS requires sufficient notice of a hearing date before assistance can be granted. VAS requires 3 weeks notice of any hearing date or deadline and such notice period will only be disregarded in exceptional circumstances.
- Copies (not the original documents) of all correspondence should be posted to Diane Duggan BL, Law Library, Four Courts, Dublin 7. DX 818061 or scanned and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Coordinator of VAS will consider the application and contact the NGO as to whether the case is suitable for the scheme. If so, there may be supplementary information required, which she will discuss with the NGO contact.
Why do barristers offer voluntary assistance?
Barristers in Ireland operate what is known as an Independent Referral Bar. This means that they do not source work directly from clients but rely on solicitors and, to a lesser extent, other professional bodies and organisations to refer work to them.
This means that how much voluntary services barristers provide largely depends on how much they are asked to provide those services by solicitors.
The Legal Aid scheme in Ireland is extremely restricted and hopelessly under-funded.
Voluntary organisations such as FLAC, the Northside Community Law Centre and the Ballymun Community Law Centre do make use of barristers’ services for voluntary work, but these organisations are themselves over-subscribed and under-funded.
As a profession, the Bar has a long tradition of protecting and advancing the interests of less well off members of society. We are anxious to continue and expand that tradition, but to do this the existing structures for providing barristers’ services needs updating. This is why we set up the Voluntary Assistance scheme.
Civi Legal Aid in Ireland
Attached, please find a booklet outlining the types of civil legal aid remedies which are available in Ireland.