It has been reported in the Guardian that several MPs have warned against the changes to Legal Aid, arguing that it could lead to a rise in false allegations of Domestic Violence in family related cases such as children matters.
The Legal Services Commission are limiting the amount of funding given to potential applicants due to financial constraints of having to “cut the UK's annual £2.2bn legal aid bill because it is one of the most expensive in the world" according to the MPs.
The obvious issue here is that if the Legal Services Commission will only grant public funding to those who make allegations that they have been the subject of domestic violence, then surely it will open the floodgates to opportunistic applicants as opposed to those who are generally in a vulnerable position and are at risk of harm.
For example, when dealing with child-based applications for Residence or Contact, if a parent throws up false allegations that they have been abused by the other parent in order to be granted funded and their matter to be dealt quickly by the Court, then the Court will not simply ignore the allegations once the first hearing arrives.
That parent will have to provide evidence if they are relying on the allegations for the purpose and reasons behind their application and this could lead on to what is known as a ‘Finding of Fact’ hearing or ‘mini trial’ where both parents will have to give evidence before the Court.
Clearly this can be a very stressful situation to be in, which can easily spiral out of control and inflame matters further between the already warring parents, which in turn could create more harm to the child. On the other hand, the new system of granting public funding in family matters, will also adversely effect people who although may not have been a victim of domestic violence, may still be classed as vulnerable and require the intervention of the Court for other reasons but simply do not have the funds to pay for a Solicitor.
It is suggested that without the advice and assistance of a legal representative, any party to a set of proceedings may be at a disadvantage to their opponent if they have legal representation, which can bring about a sense of injustice.
It is evident from the group of MPs that further investigation is required in to trying to make reductions in the Legal Aid budget, but at the same time trying to minimise the impact on those vulnerable groups that genuinely need the assistance of the Courts.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers have a specialist team of sexual and physical abuse Solicitors. If you have been a victim of domestic violence, report it to the Police and call us for a free confidential consultation on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.