Sinn Féin Senator Lynn Boylan has called on the government to urgently undertake a review of how the HAP penalty for civil legal aid has impacted on survivors of domestic abuse.
Senator Boylan’s legislation to end the HAP penalty, which had been particularly impacting on survivors of domestic abuse accessing the courts fairly, is due to go before the Seanad this evening.
Speaking this afternoon, Senator Boylan said:
“On Friday evening, reports emerged that the government has instructed the Legal Aid Board to change its interpretation of current rules to remove this HAP penalty ahead of my legislation coming before the Seanad.
“It shouldn’t have taken my Bill to force the government’s hand on this, after so much inaction and indifference from them on this vital issue.
“It is clear that the government made the last-minute decision to change their stance because they knew that they could not defend the indefensible during this evening’s debate on my Bill. It should not have taken them so long to do the right thing.
“While this development is a step in the right direction, many questions remain unanswered.
“This evening when the Minister comes before the Seanad, I will be seeking clarity about how this can be resolved urgently for the women affected.
“Women affected by the HAP penalty could have lost custody of their children after difficulties representing themselves in court. Others could have been forced to turn to loan sharks to raise funds for private solicitors and are still struggling with huge debts with sky high interest rates as a result.
“These women need to know what will happen now to address what has happened to them and ensure these injustices are put right.
“I am calling on the government to commence an immediate review of all HAP recipients affected to ascertain the consequences of this penalty and what steps need to be taken now to put this right quickly.
“The government must have a clear strategy and reach out to the women affected.
“I want to again commend all the survivors who have been speaking out about this important issue and advocating for change.”