Ministry of Justice is to Ease Legal Aid Limitations
The previous restrictions, which resulted in large numbers of women confronting abusive ex-partners without representation, had been roundly criticised by domestic violence and legal aid campaigners.
Legislation is set to be extended to include evidence from a wider range of sources, including domestic violence support organisations, housing support officers, law enforcement agencies, medical professionals and social services.
The five-year time limit on abuse evidence, which only allowed for victims of domestic violence to apply for legal aid so long as they could prove that the violence took place within the past five years, is also set to be scrapped.
Ministers are working with campaigners to bring about reforms
In a recent Westminster Hall debate, Justice Minister Dominic Raab said that his department was working closely with the Law Society, Women’s Aid, Rights of Women and family law group Resolution to help expand the new guidelines.
He said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases.”
He added: “These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support so their voice is properly heard in court.”
Victory for domestic violence campaigners
Estelle du Boulay, the director of the Rights of Women, said: “The changes . . . will make a significant difference to women experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse to access legal aid in private family law cases.”
“The previous system was so clearly unjust, leaving many genuine survivors unable to access the legal aid they were entitled to, because the evidence requirements were narrow, onerous and unrealistic,” she said.
Ms du Boulay added: “We fought the government through the courts to bring in these reforms. We are particularly grateful to the many women survivors who provided testimony that enabled us to prove our case. Their voices have finally been listened to today.”
Better access to legal aid for domestic violence survivors
Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group, which has fought cuts to legal aid, applauded the announcement. He said: “It’s taken a long time because of the general election and other delays. I’m very pleased.”
“They realised it’s a priority. It wasn’t working. Women who experienced domestic violence were not qualifying [for representation]. The amount of civil legal aid granted has fallen by 80% since Laspo [Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012] was introduced,” he said.
Elspeth Thomson, chair of the legal aid committee at the family law organisation Resolution, said:
“We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since Laspo was implemented in 2013 and welcome this news. Parliament has committed to protect victims of domestic abuse so ministers have a duty to ensure that those who need legal aid are able to access it.”
“These changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at-risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down,” she said, adding “Ultimately, these are real people, not statistics, and we must protect them and their access to the justice system.”
Joe Egan, the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, also supported wider access to legal aid, he said: “Legal aid is a lifeline for those who have suffered abuse. It is often the only way someone can bring their case before the courts. Today’s positive decision is the end result of work the Law Society and other organisations have been doing with the MoJ for many months.”
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If you are suffering from domestic violence or domestic abuse, please contact IBB in confidence to arrange a meeting and protect yourself and your children: call us on 01895 207857. Legal aid may be available in certain circumstances.
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